Monday, April 24, 2006
I'm not usually drawn to family dramas or medical ethics, but if they're all as breathlessly written as Michael Byers's Long for This World, then I'd have to be more inclined to read them. I love good last pages or paragraphs of novels almost as much as the opening stanzas. I began writing about Byers by quoting his opening paragraph. And now I'm obligated by the literary gods (or demons) in my head, to quote his closing. It's from the point of view of Darren, the teenage son of the Moss family.
"But there were other things on his mind too. He too was getting ready for college, and now he felt more acutely than ever that the world was full of a sort of marvelous, overwhelming, distracting possibility; so sometimes he found himself coming into a room with a purpose, only to forget what it was, and as he stood there, suddenly adrift in the middle of a familiar room, each object around him, though mute and motionless, seemed to hold a kind of coded message for him, a vibrating potential that remained unrealized - Was this what he had wanted? Was this? - and only by retracing his steps, squinting deeply into his own mind, and then coming into the room again would he at last remember what it was he had been looking for."
The poetic prose of this novel stands out from the crowd of today's short sentence structure. I've always been attracted to long sentences when a writer can get a cadence going. When their voice can be heard and their mind, though still hidden, is unveiled, if only momentarily for us to glimpse. It is in such passages that Byers shines. In a novel that is largely based on finding a cure for Hickman's disease, a disease in which young children age at rapid rates and die of old age by the age of fourteen,Long for This World makes the reader, young or old, come to terms with mortality. Byers challenges us to imagine the lives we live, to imagine the lives we can live, to imagine the lives we will live and to imagine the lives we'll never live.
I know the difference of great literature is in the shades, but in reading Byers, I couldn't help but feel I was reading something special, by someone special...and it was a good feeling.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon The Shadow of the Wind
Simon Winchester Professor and the Madman
Diana Krall The Look of Love