Friday, February 12, 2010

Turning Pages

I don’t know if it’s a girly-girl thing but I lose patience reading page after page of action. As I’m reading the sequence, I pointedly give up imagining two characters grappling, or cars following each other around curves and up hills. When I copyedit such sections, I force myself to pay special attention, using the same level of concentration I use with anything involving numbers, just to assure the sequence makes sense. Is it possible for guy 1 to pin guy 2’s left arm with his left leg if guy 1 is on his back? Argh!

I’ve read two books recently, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and Dark Passages in which, at the climax I just wanted to cut to the chase, or after the chase really, and happily skimmed those sections. If I missed an important detail upon which a major plot point depended, I’d go back and root around until I found the necessary detail and then skim, skim, skim.

I’m not proud of this quality in myself, but I don’t believe the book is entirely blameless. Dark Passages, a mystery that features an unsympathetic protagonist, Libby Day, survivor of a gruesome triple murder, suffered less from my browsing the pages for essential plot points than Edgar Sawtelle. Libby is a well-developed and interesting character—a woman who has spent most of her life living off of the notoriety of the murder of her mother and two sisters. After having no interest in the guilt or innocence of her brother who was convicted of the murders, she is called upon to look into what might have happened. I hardly ever read mysteries; I’d much rather watch them as two-hour movies or PBS series. But Gillian Flynn kept me interested in Libby’s story—how she came to be the unlikable person she was and how, begrudgingly, she changes—as well as the who-did-it and why of the murder. The writer was so successful in creating a full story that, when it came time for the climactic action sequence, I skimmed…mmm, maybe only 5 pages. And when I finished the book, I felt satisfied with the resolution.

I skimmed the last 75 pages of Edgar Sawtelle just to see how—in 1970s Wisconsin—Wroblewski slavishly adhered to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I no longer cared much about Edgar since, as Hamlet’s destiny was forced upon him (and the reader), I lost him to the heavy hand of the writer. I hardly read the last page. I suppose both of these books can be called “page turners,” but I prefer the straightforward compelling turning of Dark Passages to the indifferent scanning of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

1 comment:

  1. I am in awe of how fast you read. I tried Edgar Sawtelle numerous times and just couldn't slog through past the first 100 or so pages. Just.Couldn't. Maybe if I read faster, I'd build momentum.