Chasing Perfection in Samantha Harvey's DEAR THIEF
I took my first-ever fiction workshop with an instructor who boiled the practice of literature down to "It's about this guy...". "What is Novel? What is Story?" he asked the class (as I'm sure every instructor has asked the raw, unspoiled minds of every beginner-level workshop from time immemorial). What is it, we were invited to consider, that we answer when asked what a book is about? "Character!" he capped his dry-erase marker and dropped the proverbial mic. "Character is your everything. The rest is icing on the cake. Why aren't you writing this down?"
I will leave aside for a moment the troubling gender implications of the archetypal "guy" protagonist and acknowledge that yes, characters of every brand and stripe have indeed carried many a novel. For all intents and purposes, the junior writer could do a lot worse than to hone in on the shape of humanity. My instructor was right, but he withheld the cardinal rule from us until our last class: if the writing is good enough, you can get away with anything.
Because sometimes the so-called icing is better than the cake. I can't be the only one who thinks this, or generation after generation wouldn't bother to plow through seven volumes of "In Search of Lost Time", the most boring narrative known to mankind. "It's about this guy" alright, but all he does is take afternoon strolls with his mother and contemplate small french pastries. If you ask anyone what Proust writes about, you will not leave the conversation wanting to read Proust. But he is worth the several-thousand page slog because Proust is unrivalled in the power and beauty of his language.
In that vein, the Small Press Book Club will meet on March 19th to discuss Samantha Harvey's latest novel, "Dear Thief", published by Atavist. I can tell you that it's about two women: the first is an enigmatic thief who vanished almost twenty years ago, the second is the writer of this book-length letter in witness to the turmoil her lost friend left in her wake. But "Dear Thief" is also - please excuse the cliche - so much more than that. The luminosity of the prose carries the reader from one silver feathered sentence to the next. If you doubt my words then start reading this excerpt and stop when you hit a clunker - any nugget of text that's phoning it in, connecting two thoughts but not stretching toward artistry. I think you will find yourself fifty pages in and seized with the spiritual wonder of this book.
Grubbies should also check out The Atavist, the publisher's online publication of original nonfiction work, and Creatavist, a cross-platform publishing program. I haven't tried it out yet but Atavist prides itself on delivering digital products that are just as beautiful as their print works. Plus you get a free trial run. Can't beat free.
- The Small Press Book Club meets at 7:00pm on the 3rd Thursday of every month in the Used Book Cellar of the Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard St. in Brookline. Our next meeting is 3/19/15.
-We'd love for you to join us, even if you haven't read/finished the book. The book is super good though.
- Mention the book club at checkout and receive an 8% discount.
See you in March!
The Brookline Booksmith
Brookline Booksmith opened its doors in 1961 as Paperback Booksmith with the slogan "Dedicated to the fine art of browsing." Constantly changing with the neighborhood around it, Brookline Booksmith has served the people of Brookline and Boston with its eclectic mix of titles, literate and helpful staff, and seemingly neverending schedule of book signings, talks and poetry readingsSee other articles by The Brookline Booksmith