Friday, March 15, 2013

Fiction Friday (15)

When it comes to literature, I tend to be a loyalist. If an author writes a book that moves me in some way, I make every effort to read their other works. I behave the same way when it comes to music. One great album will typically keep me listening to each new one, even after several terrible ones. I like to have faith in an artist. If there exists the ability to capture my imagination once, then there is always the potential that they could strike again. For this week's book picks, I chose two titles by authors who, at some point, wrote books that influenced me in different ways. These are titles read strictly based on their previous work, and both managed to succeed again. Enjoy.

The Boy and the Sea by Kirsty Gunn
(Faber & Faber, 2006)

This is a slim novel, which on the surface appears to have room to breathe the way Gunn's stellar debut Rain does. However, the story quickly grows dense. Like the sea it speaks of, the prose has a strong undertow, pulling you deeper into its own rhythm. As a result, this coming of age tale reads more like a free verse poem, in the same style as Gunn's The Keepsake and The Place You Return to Is Home

Like a lot of free verse, in the beginning it can be tough to find the right rhythm of the words, but once you do, it simply sings. Though the metaphor of the sea and time swallowing us up before delivering us anew, along with the main character Ward's feelings of isolation, is beautifully done, I think this title, more than her previous books, remains slightly vague. I couldn't help but feeling that I wanted just a little more from Ward. We see mostly his surface with only glimpses of what lies under the waves within him. There's a beauty in that, but a few dives into the water would have made this truly brilliant in my opinion. 

UnderSurface by Mitch Cullin
(Permanent Press, 2002)

This is not a novel for everyone. In some ways, I think that should be the preface of every Mitch Cullin novel, author of Tideland. Because though he writes with a stark and beautiful prose, he often addresses subject matter which deals with the fringes of human existence. UnderSurface is no different. This is a haunting portrait of the shadowy side of human sexuality, and the base desire that drives one to do something he wouldn't ordinarily do...and then to repeat it over and over until the thrill wears off and something deeper must emerge to take it's place.

At its most basic level, UnderSurface is a cautionary tale dealing with the dangers of suppressed desires finding secretive outlets. After growing less and less cautious about his illicit rendezvous, the man character finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and consequently loses everything. But it's Cullin's gift for storytelling that makes this story compelling, by allowing the mystery to unravel in bits and pieces.

On another level, this book is a challenge to morality, and what we consider right and wrong and the way those conventions push individuals into unsafe choices. But it is also about how those moral complexities create and breed darker desires within us, and how those desires can make us lose sight of what we truly value.

As I said, this book may not be for everyone, but it probably should be. We all have demons we must face through life. This is the kind of book that forces you to examine your own.

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