Saturday, November 10, 2012

Admiring writers

First I'm going to apologize to Ann Patchett, who is a lovely writer. I just finished Run, her novel about family and politics and race and religion and Boston, in which a group of related characters are thrown together into new combinations in the aftermath of an accident. I enjoyed the book: well-crafted sentences, insightful observations, a vivid sense of place.

"Don't move her," a voice above her said. It was an adult voice, but she did not regard it. One of the first rules of safety in scouting was not to move a person after an accident, but that knowledge came second to the fact that no one can breathe facedown in the snow. When she had turned her mother just enough, she brushed the snow out of her nose and eyes. There was blood beneath her head, a bright and shocking soak of red against the white, but the sight of her mother's face, the weight of her head in her hands, calmed her and she was able to stop making that noise.

Fine work, an excellent writer.
Patchett's characters are well-drawn but they are characters. The ways they interact show us universals of the Human Condition. She limns ambition, disappointment, determination and love, and these qualities define the characters as her words skein and float and accumulate.

But I also read a couple of chapters of Fall of the Rock Dove, a novella by A. Rooney. He too chooses words with care, but his observations hit a different set of synapses. My head is nodding while my brain is still sorting out exactly what he's said, let alone why.

As storms go this wasn't much but like most of our wet ones it came up from the Gulf, over the mountains, and picked up some cold along the way. The moisture in the air makes it easier to smell people on the bus - cigarettes, bacon, perfume and cologne, shampoo and conditioner, marijuana. It feels a little bit like we're spying on each other, crossing into each other's lives. 

Rooney's characters are people, living below and beyond the page, stuck in their struggles, small happy moments drowning in a sea of disability, disrespect and suicide. They are part ridiculous, part pathetic, part canny. Through their eyes we see a world that sneaks past us constantly, that we have trained ourselves to fail to notice. His words clang and hiss and startle.

[Trevino] also checks with Miss Cleo for her psychic predictions and except for Monday [when they all have to go to the Disability office to qualify for their weekly payment], he always asks her which days are best to go out. Bonifacio and Trevino got into it once when Bonifacio told him that Miss Cleo's psychic hotline was bullshit, that they busted her. I had to separate them but imagine a fight on a city bus between two disabled guys - one blind and the other with hooks.

You can't look away. This very short book is packed with pain and vitality, defensiveness and hope.

She never said it but I think my mother thought cars were messy, unpredictable, and expensive, and they could control you. I think not having one was mostly my mother's idea but because my dad was easygoing and had never driven before he went along with it. As a child, explaining to your friends that your family doesn't own a car takes some doing. They think you're either joking, lying, or really poor.

A. Rooney, I've got to hand it to you: the people you put on the page will stay with me. Sorry, Ann Patchett: I liked your novel but it never quite got its feet dirty. But Patchett has a reputable publisher and best-sellers to her credit; Rooney's work is self-published. Go figure.