Concise? Even the word concise is too long to describe this novella –but only at first glance. Coming in at a mere one hundred pages a reader can handle this during an afternoon tea. And some might do just that. Read it. Drink tea. Move on. The English teacher in me couldn’t do that.
At first read I kept growling because the main character just wasn’t delivering for me. She wasn’t writing the novel a fellow Twitter acquaintance had challenged her to write. All she managed to type was “The End” and then freaked out. She dances around it so many ways that for a bit you get nauseous. She infuriates you with her choice of men to the point of wanting to reach into the fibers of the paper and thrash her into some semblance of self-respect. Then there is the on-going search for the elusive tea basket which only serves to remind you of things you have misplaced and yet to find. And let’s not forget the influx of family and their stories. Or the poetry and I am an English teacher but some of this poetry is far beyond my synapses to process. To top it off she tosses in a bunch of well-known authors, some of which you have read and some of which you know you should have read but haven’t, all sharing tidbits of advice. All of which only serves to feed her doubts about being able to write the damn novel in the first place.
When I finished the first read I simply put the book down and was ready to move on. I had three more books ready for my attention. But the cover stayed open. I had bent it around the book as I read and now it just didn’t want to close. My mind couldn’t close it off either. I was just so unsatisfied and I knew I was missing something. So I dove back in. This time with my colored pens. It’s what we English teachers do, color coordinate things. One color for all the authors mentioned and their advice; one for Geoffrey the pompous “boyfriend”; one for anything tea related; one for family; one for poetry; and one for her doubts. There were less than five pages unmarked and that was because they were end of chapter pages with next to nothing on them.
Finishing the subsequent reads I was mesmerized. How the hell did she fit all that into one hundred pages. Not only that but the weaving and intricacies of meshing those stories together to YES end up with a novella that could very well turn into many novels. I don’t want to read the one about Geoffery. First I just had to call him Jeff all the way through because he pissed me off so. Second, she deserved so much better in the way of a relationship. Really, 28 motel rooms? In two years? Bite me! As for the tea and poetry my tastes are not refined enough. I love tea and know what I like and don’t and imagine having no trouble experimenting with more flavors but that would be a learning process I wouldn’t mind. The poetry was just like the tea. Some of it was right up my alley and some was way beyond where my passport credentials could take me. A sestina? I can’t back down from that and I wasn’t even the one challenged with it but I can see it being on the to do list for summer. And the family stories were delightful and terrifying but real as they come.
But the part I really want to share with you (in case you aren’t compelled to read this novella multiple times for yourself) is some of the interplay of author advice and writer doubt. See if you can find anything useful in the author advice or yourself in the writer doubts.
Writer Doubt: A novelist would remember these things.
Author Advice: “Being a writer is like having an insatiable parasite inside you.” Thomas Wolfe
Writer Doubt: Her laptop was plugged in, though, and the Word file was still open on the desktop—a single page of a novel she had never started, with the words “The End” typed smack in its center. As she sank to the floor, she managed a laugh. “The End”. They‘d think it was a suicide note, wouldn’t they?
Author Advice: “Pull your chair to the edge of the precipice and I will tell you a story.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
Writer Doubt: Laura did not like heights, or precipices, or conflicts. This felt ridiculously problematic.
Author Advice: Writing stories is an exercise in freedom and quarreling. Mario Vargas Llosa
Writer Doubt: Writing like Pynchon was an option. (Not trusting her own voice)
Author Advice: The main character must be booted through the doorway, into “the great unknown “ or the novel would get boring. James Scott Bell
Writer Doubt: It had probably been a mistake to start her relationship with Geoffrey via a sestina. Yeah that was the problem in that relationship; a sestina!
Author Advice: Stories have the power to make things present; make it possible for a person to look at things never looked at. Tim O’Brien
Writer Doubt: If she was going to write a novel, she felt defeated before she began, because someone might be coming along to pick it apart, looking for symbols.
There are many more for you to discover as you read this magnificent novella that will exercise your brain as if it were a series of interlinking novels. Don’t let it sneak up on you like it did me. You have been warned, there is a lot of material packed like loose tea leaves for a long journey; physical sustenance and good for the soul.