Friday, April 10, 2009

Tiny Transgressions?

What makes you give up on a book? Or do you?

Somehow, I needed to be over 50 before I realized life was short. I can now pass on a book I've begun reading if it doesn't grab me. Before, I'd slog through the entire thing, probably turning into a major grump to everyone around me. Now, life is better when I can agree to allow myself a DNF when necessary. (Did Not Finish.)

Beyond writing and plot, there isn't a lot that will make me close the covers of a book. If the facts presented cause me to stretch my believability a bit, I can usually remind myself that this is fiction. As long as the story and characters are believable and intriguing, I can let a little tampering with facts slide.

But many readers can't. Or at least, think they shouldn't.

Recently, I read a very well written debut novel I agreed to review for Armchair Interviews. Dream House was a challenge to pigeon-hole to a genre—definitely not suspense, or mystery, or even crime (though a crime was committed). It was a book much more general in scope. I recommended it personally to a friend of mine who I know appreciates more general, even literary, fiction.

Was she expecting suspense since that's my usual fare? Maybe. To be truthful, I was too. So maybe, when in the very beginning, she had trouble with the way the crime scene is handled by the police and cleanup crew (believe me, this has very little to do with the story) she stopped reading. Period. And I think she missed out on a book she would have otherwise loved.

Whose loss was it?

Research is important. As a writer, I want to do my best to make sure a little thing like a bungled not-that-important scene to the story doesn't stop a reader cold. I even wrote about it here. But as a reader, who is looking for a compelling story, I can forgive the occasional flub.


"I'm always looking for the author who can lift me out of myself."

CR: In For the Kill by John Lutz.

It's all better with friends.


  1. Ah. I recently put a book down that I simply could not bring myself to finish. Not because it was bad writing, or that the plot stunk, but because it suddenly seemed like I'd already read this story--several times--and I just couldn't muster up any enthusiasm to finish it.

    What I mean by "already read" is that everything seemed so familair, almost like the writer took a bare-bones plot outline, entered his own characters, tweaked a few things to try to make it appear different . . . only it wasn't different.

    And it was a suspense/thriller-type book, which I usually really enjoy reading. Maybe it was because I'd read several from this genre within a short time-span. Maybe. Don't think so, though.

    I think, however, that I'll intersperse what I read with different genres just to keep things a little more fresh.

    What do you think?

  2. Mistakes don't often bother me--perhaps because I have a tendency to instantly and completely suspend disbelief and so don't even notice them--but I do find it troubling to be talked down to by an author. Recently I read a novel where a character spoke a line of dialogue, and then the authorial voice dipped in to say, "It was the kind of comment she always made." Except I knew that because the author had done a good enough job developing her character! Anyway, mistake or not, I plan to order DREAM HOUSE right away. Your review alone grabbed me.

  3. Formulaic . . . one of those fine lines. Readers have expectations, but they also want something memorable.

    Peg, I know what you mean. And I think you have a great idea to
    bounce things around just a bit with a genre shuffle. Maybe you can even do it with subgenres . . . suspense vs. police procedural vs. cozy kind of thing.

    About the talking down issue: I think an editor should help catch those kinds of things. As writers, we can easily miss something because we work so hard to get eveything in our heads down on paper, I suppose it can be overdone. You've made me nervous, Jenny! Sheesh.

  4. Oh, don't be nervous! I know, I find myself doing this a LOT. Then my trustys say, Jeez, hit us over the head with it much? I think it's a very easy trap to fall into, and maybe that's *why* it bothers me, you know, along the lines of we always bristle when we see our worst traits reflected in somebody else. But even for this, I don't necessarily put down a book...

    Anyway, interesting story about DREAM HOUSE. I went to my (relatively-local) Borders to get it. I met one of the staff who said they'd had five copies at time of pub and none sold. So I had her order me one and she asked how I'd heard of it. I mentioned this blog, and the seller immediately called it up and read the review. She apparently loves literary suspense. Then she said that she would talk up the book when it comes out in paper...