When the front blurb of a book compares it to a cross between Joan Didion and Don DeLillo, I admit to thinking, “Nope, won’t like it.” (Call me a plebian; I’ve never been able to get into a DeLillo novel yet.)
But I started it anyway, and 96 pages later the book fell on my face because I’d dozed off trying to finish it before bed. Spiotta has an odd writing style. She tells the story by describing scenes and letting you figure out how the characters are feeling, almost like a screenplay writer. But her prose is compelling. And her characters drive the plot in magnificent ways. I’m a sucker for well-drawn characters.
It’s not just another tiresome sixties novel; it’s got pep and zest and less moral certitude and condescension than others of the genre; the female protagonist is in hiding, and it is her fifteen-year-old son who finally figures it out. Her boyfriend at the time of their criminal troubles is equally well-drawn, and a sympathetic character in ways her stiffness holds back for this reader. If you like character studies and subtle writing, this is your book.
If you like fast pacing, you may not like this novel. It’s a jumble of words, action/inaction, and ideas, and I finished it in two sittings. For me, the book was more about the action and what happens next than the way the author wrote; the words didn’t get in the way of the outcomes and how the characters were reacting to each other. Which I love in an author; poetry is fine, but don’t spend all your time proving you’re clever. Just tell the story and let your characters take over. Which Spiotta did, with bells on.
An enthusiastic two paws up for Eat the Document.
Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing
In a far off galaxy many years ago – – –
I (Jack) was part of the emerging Scottish folk-music scene at around the same time that like-minded young Americans were heading for Greenwich Village to discover much the same buzz and counter-culture. In the early 1960s, subversiveness had a musical soundtrack. My Edinburgh-centered version had little direct musical connection with its American cousin, other than very occasional imported albums and songs heard 2nd or 3rd hand from the likes of Archie Fisher or Josh McCrae, but the undercurrent of questioning authority and plotting the green revolution was similar. In my case there was also a Pete Seeger concert in Edinburgh and a stage shared with Carolyn Hester in Aberdeen.
But I had never been to Greenwich Village – until last Saturday, that is!
Finding ourselves in New York and asked what we’d like to see, Wendy gave me a grin and said, “Greenwich Village.” And so I got my picture taken standing in Bleeker Street, then McDougal Street and finally in Washington Square Park. An old ghost had been laid to rest; a place that had assumed near-mythic proportions in my mind was beneath my feet and in my view. Although the area has no doubt changed a lot—we saw boutique shops and chain stores where some of the old folkie corners had once questioned how we lived our lives—the buildings are mostly unaltered, the cellars still there though fulfilling a different function.
It was a lovely day out for this child of the sixties, to see where the great ‘Folk Scare’ was rooted and the park where the ‘revolution’ was plotted as young musicians who would later become household names gathered to jam.
Finally, the following morning we shared breakfast with our hosts, including Nichole’s father-in-law, Harvey. (Nichole is Wendy’s editor at St. Martin’s Press.) It turned out that he had been to the NYC parties back in those days when Bob Dylan had also attended. Conversation at the table took us both back to respective youth and shared cultural signposts. I was able to reminisce about attending Dylan’s 1966 Edinburgh concert, just 2 days before the famous ‘Judas’ accusation in Manchester.
A very happy and poignant experience for Harvey and Jack, a couple of old folkies tripping down the musical lane of memories!
(The photo on the right is of me at the corner of Bleeker and McDougal Streets, with Wendy’s agent Pamela at left, thoughtfully keeping Wendy from being killed as she steps into the street to photograph me!)