Friday, October 7, 2011

Fiction Friday (2)

When I'm working on a project, I try not to read anything that I think resembles the same tone of the book I'm writing. This isn't because I'm afraid it will influence me. I more afraid it will discourage me from continuing. I'm terrified I'd encounter a book I loved and would always be trying measure up to it. Instead, I read books that put me in the mind for whatever the next idea I have floating around. While writing Afterworld, I read two amazing books that definitely helped me focus my vision for the book I'm writing now. Both of these novels sort of represent the current state of mind when it comes to working these days. Enjoy.

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer

I'd been wanting to read this classic British Children's book ever since I was nineteen and learned The Cure song of the same title was based on it. I recently found a used copy on a rainy day in great NYC bookshop called The Housing Works. I started reading it a few days later. That's saying a lot considering books typically sit on my to read shelf for months or even years. But this was one I just couldn't resist.

When Charlotte wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she discovers she's not quite the same in the morning...and neither is anyone else. In fact, Charlotte is somebody entirely different. Due to a magical phenomenon, skillfully left unexplained, she has swapped places with a girl named Clare who lived fifty or so years before. Switching back every other day, the two girls leave each other notes to help ease their confusion. Then one day, Clare and her sister are moved out of the boarding school leaving Charlotte stuck in the past. The longer she remains in 1918, the less Charlotte seems to remember who the real her really is.

The aspect of this book that I found remarkable was its tone. Penelope Farmer is able to capture the worry and excitement of a character in this situation in very subtle and moving ways. The emotion is restrained, yet powerful. The same can be said about the bigger themes that run through the novel such self-discovery, family bonds, friendship, and the lingering shadow of World War I that hangs over the narrative. They are dealt with in a way that feels natural and effortless. An excellently written novel that I enjoyed very much.

The Little Girl Who LIves Down The Lane by Laird Koenig

I opened this book not knowing anything about it and was completely blown away. I literally couldn't put it down and read it in one sitting. It follows a 13 year old English girl named Rynn who has recently relocated to Long Island in the '70s. Now I must confess that Rynn is my favorite type of character, a strong willed, intelligent young protagonist who refuses to bow to the unfairness of the adult world. In that sense, the book reminded me of some of my all time favorites like Paper Moon and The Demon Flower. But in addition to creating such a wonderful character, Laird Koenig is able to build suspense in such a clever way. In the past, in regards to my own novel Zombie Blondes, I've written extensively about my appreciation for what I've termed 'slow-motion' horror. This books is a perfect example of the genre. The suspense comes from the reader's concern for Rynn, not from the fear of something. Most of the fear happens behind the surface, keeping the reader guessing all the way to the end...and the actual ending is phenomenally handled, leaving the reader with a joyously evil grin on their face as they turn the last page.

There are some powerful scenes in this book. And besides Rynn, there are other unforgettable characters. Frank Hallet has to be one of the creepiest characters I've ever encountered. The mood and dialogue in this novel are pitch perfect. I'm amazed sometimes that books this good can be forgotten by the world. It's more than a simple suspense novel, it's also an incredible, and unconventional, coming of age story. An absolutely fantastic read. If you ever come across this book at a used book store, do yourself a favor and snatch it up immediately.

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