Monday, September 15, 2008

Non-Linear 2 with Plots

The last two novels I've read have both had non-traditional, non-linear plot structures. I actually really enjoy a tale that is told in a way that loops or jumps around--as long as it is done well. Maybe this comes from loving Faulkner so much or just enjoying a writer's inventiveness.

In Sandra Cisneros' Caramelo, the plot builds to a climactic event--an argument, a fight really, between the young narrator's parents. Then, abruptly in the next chapter, the plot jumps back almost a hundred years to the "Awful Grandmother's" childhood. The action moves forward from there through the years of the Mexican Revolution, hints of Spanish-American War, the World Wars, and immigration from Mexico City to Chicago. Throughout the tale, someone interrupts the narrator, who now seems older than when the novel first began, and complains she isn't telling it right. Eventually, the novel reaches where it had left off and continues on. It isn't until the end that all this is sorted out. I loved though the multi-generational tale that tries to explain why some is the way she is. Why is Awful Grandmother so awful? What was the fight between Mama and Papa about? What is the role of storytelling? What purpose can it serve?

I enjoy Sandra Cisneros' work, especially House on Mango Street, one of my all-time favorites. She can tell so much in so few words and she plays with narrative structure, layers of narrators, and authorial voice like toys--effortlessly and with humor and lightness, even when the themes are deep and emotional. A beautiful novel--so much in it, I can't fit it all in here.

Our last book club read, The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve, also attempts to explain why someone at age 50 is who he is. The novel is told mostly backwards beginning when the main characters, Thomas and Linda, old lovers, meet at about age 50. Shreve was intrigued by the thought of seeing someone later in life and working backwards to figure out what shaped that person into what you see before you. The novel is told in three sections--52, 27, and 17--the age of Linda each time they meet. Shreve lacks the depth and weight of Cisneros (maybe made more difficult by the fact that I read them back to back). You find yourself not caring as much about the characters partly because you aren't given enough "fleshing out" to care and partly because they are really likeable characters. This was the first Shreve novel I've read and I'm interested enough to go back and read others, especially Sea Glass which was recommended by my fellow book clubians.

In other readings, I'm taking The Right Attitude to Rain and Blue Shoes and Happiness (both Alexander McCall Smith novels from the two "detective" series) to the beach with me this week. R and I are joining the rest of the "girls" on D's side of the family--sisters, mom, sister-in-law, and our only niece--at Ormond Beach for a long weekend. Which means D and B. Diddy will be home alone. PLUS, Rock Band 2 came out this week. I'm not even going to think about it.....


patti said...

BWHAHahahahaha! Oh lands...Rock Band II! You are too funny!! I loved seeing you yesterday! It was very sweet! Thanks for the great book reviews! xoxox

kelly said...

if your book club likes novels that "loop around" a bit I bet you'd like my novel, STANDING STILL, from Simon & Schuster. It's been compared to Anita Shreve's The Pilot's Wife.

Kelly Simmons

Goes On Runs said...

i felt the same way about the last time they met. i would read another of fact, i think i have.