Monday, March 30, 2015

Two Novels--and a Giveaway!

This weekend I read two very different novels that I want to talk about. (I actually read more than two books this weekend. First of all, I often do. Second, I feel WAY behind on my reading right now, though I notice that people just keep writing more books, and some of these books are important ones I really need to read, and others I just want to read, and so there are all these books. I'm trying hard. But--not unusual for a Monday morning, particularly a rainy one--I digress.)

One was called Man at the Helm and the other was Station Eleven, and given that they are both novels written in English by women, they couldn't be more different. Station Eleven actually freaked me out a bit--I had to inform my subconscious on Saturday night that really, it was fine to fall asleep, I was just feeling a little anxious because of the story. Station Eleven is all about the aftermath of a virus that kills 99.9% of the people in the world. The infrastructure collapses entirely--no electricity, no gasoline, no Internet. The bulk of the story takes place 20 years after the virus hits, though the whole thing drifts back and forth among different people and different times. I really loved it. I loved the characters, the writing, the premise (survival is insufficient). I loved every last bit of it. These days I don't find many books that I simply can't put down, but this was one.

On the other hand--there's always an other hand--I'm not sure I agree with her version of dystopia. Maybe. But maybe not. I tried to imagine, if there were 40 people left in Bristol? Could we figure out how to work the lights? I suppose some of that would depend on which 40 survived. And would all those roofs really collapse so soon? It would depend on the weather, I guess. Also I don't think the author actually knows anything about horses. She's got horses in the book for transportation, and I buy that--but she doesn't get them.

Sometimes it's hard to know what you don't know. It's been pointed out that I use the word canned, as in canned vegetables, in TWTSML, when it properly should be the British version, tinned. I feel badly about this. We made some deliberate changes into American English since I was writing primarily for an American audience, changing torch, for example, into flashlight, but canned I just missed.

I bought Man at the Helm solely because it was written by Nina Stibbes, author of last year's delightful memoir Love, Nina. I hate to use the word delightful--sounds so twee--but there's really no better choice, though her memoir wasn't twee at all, just young and fresh and matter-of-fact, which is also how I'd describe her novel, with its unsentimental and unsparing child narrator.

I found myself wanting to ask Nina, "Was this really what your childhood was like? Your parents, your sister?" But of course that's utter claptrap. She's a writer, for heaven's sakes, she's allowed to make things up, and not book is a roman a clef. Many times I've had people assume stuff in my novels was autobiographical when it wasn't. Just recently, a librarian said to me, in puzzled voice, "When I read your book [TWTSML] I sometimes got the impression that Susan was gay."

"That's because she's gay," I said.

"But,' the woman continued, "I Googled you, and you're not gay."

"No," I said. "I'm not." Because Susan isn't me. Confusing, I know

I've had people who read Halfway to the Sky press my hand and tell me, with tears in their eyes, that they're so sorry my brother died. They look kind of peeved when I tell them that my brother is a nondisabled attorney in Indiana.

So Man at the Helm may not be factual, but it's true. As is Station Eleven. That's all any reader can ask.

I'm in a fine giving spirit today. If you've made it all the way here, leave a comment, and I'll use the random number generator to pick the winner of a free audio version of The War That Saved My Life. Today only! Happy Monday!