Sunday, February 10, 2008

Good Quote from an Author

I read this on one of my listserves, and, because it is true and insightful, felt I needed to post it here:
"During a panel discussion last Thursday, I heard author Susan Cheever
say, "Catharsis is not what the writer is supposed to have. Catharsis is
what the reader is supposed to have." She also said that the
relationship between writers and their readers is "like an unrequited
love affair." And she said, "Good writing is not self-expression; it's

Too many authors ignore the above, writing for purely selfish reasons. There are too many women, especially, that see writing a novel as a form of therapy, and feel the need to foist their horrible, boring whines on the rest of the world. There are others who use novels as a way to get revenge on their relatives or others whom they feel have done them wrong. I maintain that novels written for these purposes are nearly always total crap, not worth the dead trees they are printed on. The authors themselves rarely have any writing or storytelling talent, and take refuge in tired cliches and endless monologues about their pathetic victimhood.
I agree with Flannery O'Connor, who once said something about the University not squelching enough writers from trying to become bestselling hacks.
I just read two books, in fact, that were written by 'established' authors that were both awful. Luanne Rice's "Summer Girl" and Anna Quindlen's "Blessings."
I've read one of Quindlen's other works that I recall enjoying, though I don't recall the title. "Blessings" was fairly well written, in the sense that the prose was decent, the characters not cardboard cut outs or tacky stereotypes. But the story itself seemed unfocused, rambling and melancholy, with an edge of bitterness that made it hard to finish. The main character, an wealthy elderly woman, is unkind to the point of cruelty, and ridiculously secretive, even to her daughter, who never learns that her real father is a married man whom her mother had a fling with before WW2. To legitimize her pregnancy, the elderly woman marries her homosexual brothers secret lover, who conveniently dies in the war. Though she's obviously broken the rules herself, she's stiff and unyielding on traditions and rules for the rest of her life. She hires a young man just out of prison (he takes the rap for his sleazy friends) to be her groundskeeper, and when the groundskeeper finds a baby on his doorstep, he decides to raise the child and eventually enlists the help of the elderly woman and her housekeepers daughter. Unfortunately, the baby is discovered, and reunited with its stupid teenage mother, who really wants nothing to do with the child, but is forced by her parents to take custody of the baby anyway. Eventually, the elderly woman dies and leaves a great deal of money to the groundskeeper, who wants to establish his own landscaping business, but the ending is still unsatisfactory as it feels unfair and unenlightening.
Rice's novel purports to deal with the subject of domestic violence and abuse of women, and has pages of fearful bleating on the part of the main characters to prove it. Of course, because its supposed to be a romance novel, a romance develops between a physically wounded sea captain and an emotionally wounded woman and her daughter. The characters are nearly all stereotypes and the bad husband is not just an abuser, he's a thief and internet porn con man...because I assume Rice felt that just being abusive to two different women, both of whom had to flee his grasp to Canada, wasn't evil enough. The prose was average, and the plot moved fairly fast (mainly because the reader could see the denoument coming after chapter one) but the characters just had too little depth to be interesting.
I'm hoping to get a new Robin McKinley book this week, and if I'm lucky, a new Susan Vreeland novel for Valentines Day!

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