Saturday, November 24, 2007

repaving route 66

Some YA authors are able to construct stories that will keep a reader turning pages even though the conflict situation and structure may be somewhat familiar. Laurie Halse Anderson's "Twisted" is like that, and though the protagonist, a high school senior named Tyler, has had to work off a minor vandalism rap at his high school, he's not really serious 'Gangsta' material. He and his younger sister, Hannah, do have some problems with a psychologically abusive, work-driven father, who's been shaped by his own father-abused childhood. Predictably, the mother at times retreats into the solace of a drink or two rather than confront her over-controlling husband. Tyler falls for an air-head rich girl at his school, and endures the hostility, and ultimately a violent encounter, with her brother, another classmate.

It could be an all too familiar scenario and characters, but Anderson's writing is good and she injects the right amount of tension to keep moving the story along. A good secondary character, Hannah, Tyler's younger sister, just starting her freshman year at Tyler's school, enhances the story. She metamorphoses from a dutiful, homebound girl into an exuberant, confident, breakout personality, eager to set Tyler and herself onto the popular track in school life—though there's still the grinding problem of dad.

Previously toured themes can still reverberate in the hands of good writers.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

more on graphic novels

Re-Gifters is one of the new graphic novels, though one can as easily refer to it as a mass market—which includes literary work—comic book, geared to Middle-Grade or High School readers, but appealing to some of us adults, too. Re-Gifters, like some of the early comic books, has an authors' team, Mike Carey, writer, and Mark Hempel and Sonny Liew, illustrators. Read more about comic book author teams in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon.

The Re-Gifters story is about a Korean girl, Dixie, who would like to gain the romantic interest of her top competitor, an Anglo boy, who is in her training club, or dojo. Dixie lives in a rough section of Los Angeles, and in an early scene she's confronted by a group of toughs. She's on her way to being nailed, but is rescued by a cool-talking Hispanic boy with attitude, who's also a loan shark. The gang looks up to him and Dixie now has a useful friend. Later, she uses money her father had given her to enter a big martial arts competition, and instead, buys a statue of an ancient Korean warrior to give as a present to the Anglo boy. It's a futile gesture, and now she's lost her chance to compete in the tournament. In a series of misadventures, the statue comes back to her as a gift from the Hispanic boy (hence, Re-Gifters), and she is given a free 'wild card' chance to enter the tournament. The Hispanic boy provides her with a dilapidated 'gym' at his home for training. As Dixie advances in the tournament, the Anglo boy, also moving up, gets concerned about her potential, and tries to sweet-talk Dixie into throwing her semi-finals match. She disdains his attempt, and goes on to defeat him in the finals. In the closing, the Hispanic boy is a dinner guest in Dixie's traditional Korean household, and the future, at least for a while, seems rosy.

The graphics are dynamic and nicely drawn, and the story has some appealing multi-cultural aspects, though it's a little worrisome to contemplate that Dixie's new boyfriend is, after all, a loan shark, though with a seemingly good heart. Graphic novels will never replace the deep immersion and imaginative world of prose novels, but they have an appeal all their own.

Monday, November 5, 2007

story endings

In finishing three short stories, novellas really, in the "Elephanta Suite," by Paul Theroux, the crafting of convincing, satisfying endings for a story came to mind. Theroux's stories, all set in India, are engrossing and beautifully written, with the endings for the first two stories powerful and seamless, and convincing, but the ending of the final story, "The Elephant God," seemed not to fit the portagonist's character. The story is gripping until that point, but though the protagonist, an American woman, looking for a spiritual life while living in an ashram and simultaneously working as an instructor of American speech patterns for employees of a technological call-center, is a resourceful, strong-willed woman, her dramatic retaliation against one of the employees who assaulted her is not quite believable. Though she's been stalked and abused by this man, her last, cold, calculating action seemed over the top, though satisfying to some degree.

Endings were on my mind when I read an interesting essay in Writer's Chronicle, Nov. 2007, "A Tale of Two Endings: Dicken's Great Expectations," by Douglas Bauer. Dickens' original manuscript ended on what seemed a contrived, chance meeting between Estelle and Pip in the city, and a parting between them that seemed final. Bauer says, "…if you read Great Expectations as a novel that steadily acquires real emotional and psychological traction, then Dickens's original ending—with its almost contemporary, quietly stated irony, bracingly free of his famous sentimentality; and one that's contemporary too in its powerful truncation (all those what-ifs" that get said in all that isn't said)—is the preferable conclusion."

However, an author friend of Dickens who was asked to review the original manuscript convinced him to write a more hopeful ending. Dickens's rewrite hedged a bit, making it seem like a continued relationship between Estelle and Pip was foreseen, though the final line was left somewhat ambiguous—"I saw the shadow of no parting from her." That version got published, and the following year (1862) in a second printing, apparently now more satisfied with the idea, Dickens made the line less ambiguous: "I saw no shadow of another parting from her."

Perhaps Theroux might also have received suggestions to have his ending less extreme, a more subtle irony, but he went with a powerful truncation concept. It's still got me thinking, so perhaps it did its job.

Some of Bauer's other thoughts on endings were also interesting: "... any ending that succeeds both culminates and at the same time continues the story…the mix of these two factors naturally varies according to whether the writer's principal desire is, on one hand, to bring everything together, or, on the other, to leave matters more elliptically open. But both qualities, culmination and continuation, are fundamentally always present." And, "The question, then, facing the writer is how to write an ending that benefits from all the complicated momentum that has been funneled into it; one that sounds its confidence and retains a narrower but still resounding power, even as it sings its final notes alone." Not bad.
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