Friday, May 20, 2011

Fiction that brings you to your knees

Great writing leaves me devastated at the end of a book.  I think about it and want to hyperventilate, and then I can't write for days.  Charles Bukowski mentions in one of his books that a young hungry writer often compares himself to his heroes to judge how good he may be.  I agree with that.  The current piece I am writing is always my best piece.  Everything before it is just practice.  Over the course of years I found books that are heartbreaking to any writer because the quality and level of craftsmanship will make you want to quit.

These are the books I struggle to become equal with.

The Risk Pool by Richard Russo

I started reading Richard Russo after the movie Nobody's Fool came out in 1995.  Paul Newman played Sunny.  He reminded me so much of my grandfather and once I found the book name in the credits I went out and bought it.  Since I have a habit of reading everything an author writes, I consumed the rest of his library.  When I finished this book the world paused for a minute, and I abandoned the story I was writing. 
Ned Hall, the narrator, wonders when his father may stop by to harass him and his mother again.  Ned's father is a constant nuisance to his mother and somewhat of a mystery to his son.  As the years progress Ned's mother slips into a deep depression and Ned is faced with the challenge of living with a father he hardly knows anything about.  Sam Hall, the father, is not what most people would call a good influence.  He moves the boy in with him above a small department store, teaches him how to shoot pool, and teaches him how to get by.
Each loving touch Russo puts into the details give me the feeling I woke up on the Hall's couch and watched their lives as their voices passed through the room.  By the end, when Ned comes home from college to take care of his father, the book ends and I don't want to leave.  I reread this book every few years.  Russo's other books are great.  In fact his newest That Old Cape Magic is one of his best.  But no book stabs me in the heart more than Risk Pool.

The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell

 Fat Shug Atkins wants something different from life.  He and his mother live in a graveyard, and his mother's boyfriend makes him crawl into people's windows to steal their prescription drugs.  Shug's mother needs someone to take care of her, and will sway at any alpha male or resemblance of security.  As Shug comes of age his affections for his mother tighten as he watches her give up all resemblance of self respect to whatever man comes calling.
Most people know Daniel Woodrell's work from watching the movie Winter's Bone, even though that movie sucked compared to the book.  I love most of Woodrell's southern tales.  The man can lay down a line, and when I finished this book my head shook slowly in disbelief.  If you watch No Reservations, the Anthony Bourdain travel show, then you may have seen Woodrell break his shoulder in the Ozarks episode.  Luckily he can write better than he can take a hit.

The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster

Many people will say the New York trilogy, or Leviathan, are better Auster novels.  I love those books as well, but The Book of Illusions makes a writer stop what he is doing and tell himself not to even try.
David Zimmer is drinking himself to death.  His wife and kids were killed in an airplane crash and now Zimmer can't find a reason for his existence.  The only thing that gives him relief is watching old black and white comedies.  He begins to study the films of Hector Mann and obsesses over the disappearance of the movie star.  After he gathers his research and starts to write a book about Mann, a letter comes from Mann's wife.  Zimmer is sure it is some kind of hoax.  Hector Mann is thought of as being deceased.  When Zimmer goes to meet Hector a whole host of other problems come up.
This is a great novel for writers to study at any level.  The interwoven sub plots and masterful story structure will send you back to articles about plot points, and wondering how to map this book.

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