Monday, January 26, 2015

Beginnings: why should I keep reading?

I don't really like to use this space for critiquing work--it's more for learning from reading, but sometimes reading will teach you things to avoid, too. For example, I'm reading We Are Water by Wally Lamb. I've read Lamb's books before and I fully expect the narrative to get more interesting, but for now, I'm not finding the book opening too captivating.

Sometimes, just as an experiment, I start reading a book without looking at its summary or blurb first--it just so happens I'm reading this for a book club, so I didn't really do a lot of footwork to find it on my own, which means I didn't read up on it too much. It's an interesting experience to dive in without knowing what to expect--does the opening pull you in right away, despite not knowing what the story will be about exactly? Does it give you a strong hook, or at least an idea of the question you'll be reading to find out?

With We Are Water, my answer to all of the above was, not really. I made it to the third chapter before I decided to look up the plot. I got that a wedding will be the central event of the novel, and the first chapter opens with the hint of a racially motivated murder that may have taken place in the past, but other than that, I have no idea what I'm reading to find out--there's no immediate goal, no unrequited love, and just the hint of a (murder) mystery. There's not much front story going on and each of the chapters is taken over by a different character who reminisces about the past, so it feels more like I'm reading a series of tiny memoirs rather than a novel. It feels like this is going to be a novel animated by springboard flashbacks (see my post where I theorize on this as a concept), but it looks like I'm going to have to read more patiently to figure out what they will lead back to.

I'm willing to give Wally Lamb the benefit of the doubt, but it just goes to show--readers have a hard enough job figuring out what's going on--it pays to throw them a bone at the start and make it clear there's going to be a payoff for hanging in there.

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