Friday, August 03, 2012
An Introduction To My Sister's Novel
My sister wrote a book and damn if I'm going to take that lying down.
She knows I'm the better writer. We've always known that. I don't know what she's trying to pull, with this.
She's a very good writer, mind you. You pretty much have to be, to get a book accepted in this era of print media implosion. But she knows and I know that I could write a better book than hers.
So why haven't I? First, this isn't an excuse, it's a preference. I work hard all day. I earn my evenings and weekends. When I come home, I don't want to have to be knuckling down writing a book, just to prove I can do it. Maybe if I had an inferiority complex to assuage, that could appeal. Second, I have very high standards for ideas. I have tons of ideas, all the time, but I've always wanted to hold out for that one idea that just jumps out at me, undeniably, as my book to write. The book no one else could write. Otherwise, why bother? If someone else can write it, let him or her do it! And in this case: her, and good for her.
My sister's book is fine. I'd even say it's very good. It's a neat little dream exploration, slash meditation on the nature of reality, slash romance novel: "romance" with a small "r," and nothing very novel about it. Anyone could have written this book, at this point. It's a sound entry in the modern pop lit canon of questioning, existential magical realism stocked with quirkycutter characters dealing with down-to-earth conflicts that unfold in predictably surprising ways. And I'm sure anyone will adapt it into a screenplay, as well. It reads as "unfilmable," in a way that any independent savant is sure to take as a gauntlet thrown down, a chance to pull out the stops on what the critics will all praise as a "convoluted, puzzle-box feel-good roller-coaster of the heart's mind."
Don't let me seem to be disparaging it: it's literature, albeit of a sentimental/manipulative tearjerker cum wannabe intellectual think-piece sort. It's not even pretentious. Too earnest by half. This is quite a smart, simple little book. She pulls some clever effects, and works a couple neat tricks for all they're worth, which by the end of the book's close to four hundred pages has piled up to quite a bit. And writing this thing wasn't an easy job for her, by any means.
I should know, because she came to me several times with drafts, wanting me to read through, wanting to know my thoughts. I gave her all the encouragement an honest, even-handed assessment can provide. I'm proud to say that even at a cursory skim, each later draft was a marked improvement over the one before. I wouldn't say she used my suggestions; I tried not to make any. I did my best to limit myself to eliciting from within her what she was already trying to do. I'm really proud of how I kept my own preferences and notions out of it. I didn't think it would turn into anything, to be honest! I was touched and amused, happy to help with this little hobby of hers, and though I knew her admiration for me and how much she was willing to take my opinion and run with it, I could see how much effort she was putting into this. Whatever the result, I wanted it to be the unalloyed expression of her own voice. I wanted to give her that. This book is hers, despite I'm sure I'll come in for a dedication or at least, a prominent acknowledgement. She's really done a good piece of work, here. I'm as proud of her as I am happy for her, but it pisses me off a bit that now I need to step up and show my own stuff.
Just in a fit of pique, really - not because I have to. Just in a fit of pique. She'll be the first to tell you I have nothing to prove. But let me tell you: that doesn't mean I can't prove. It's time to write my book. There's no need to hold out for some grand idea, really, is there? All one needs to write the book that no one else can write is: imbue it with something personal. Something of one's own. The title I've chosen is My Sister Wrote A Book.
It's a novel. The fictionalized account of a guy whose sister wrote a book, telling the story of said book from within multiple frames: the development of the sister's book from the sister's perspective, how she tinkers and nudges the tale along in a way that interacts with her own life's gaffes and missteps and in the process, reveals much of her own hopes, prejudices and limitations; the alternate development of what the book's untold story could have, or perhaps, should have been, as the brother's eyes perceive an overlay of untapped, underexplored deeper themes that hint at a starker reality; and, weaving the two together, a frank, debunked, demystified narrative of the events from the brother's life and relationships that clearly provided the inspiration for the story in the first place - albeit, stripped thrillingly free of the gloss that so changed and distorted them as to make any resemblance plausibly deniable.
Expect a masterpiece. The humor will flow naturally from the characters. The gripping interest of the situations as they develop, and the endlessly quotable dialogue, will make the story a treat for the enjoyment of the average must-read book list consumer. Yet the additional levels of meaning and reality, and the interplay between them, will make my novel a feast of ambiguity laid bare, for more sophisticated readers.
In the meantime, as I said, my sister has written a very good book, here! A bit shallow, a bit escapist, implausible in parts, but it fits. This book captures the views and character of the author in a voice as real, as recognizable, as distinctive as anyone you might bump into on the street, or at church. As you read, note to yourself that the omniscient yet fallible narrator is the real protagonist, and you'll be sure to smile along with the twists and turns her whimsy has in store for you. Sit back, settle in and enjoy.