Dec 6 2012
I discovered the marvelously talented Anne Patchett a bit late. State of Wonder, her book about a researcher who ventures into the Amazon to look for a lost colleague, landed on my desk at India Currents because the heroine is half-Indian; weird reason, since there are just a few pages dealing with Marina Singh’s visits to India, but a jackpot for me. SoW is un-put-down-able, even when Patchett pauses for long stretches in the narrative to muse on her characters’ motivations and inner lives. As soon as I finished it, I grabbed The Magician’s Assistant, her first (I think). TMA is much shorter, but even here the atmospherics are well crafted and ably support a rather sketchy plot.
Right now I am reading Bel Canto, her most famous book. It was awarded both the Orange Prize for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction(thank you Wikipedia) and it is both an aspiring writer’s dream and nightmare. No one can write detail like Patchett, and even in this story of a hostage situation in a South American country, Patchett takes the time to meticulously craft each character’s back story. This slows down the proceedings quite a bit, and in some ways I am glad I read SoW first, or I could have given up on this amazing writer, to my detriment.
Anyway, the point I am trying to make is Ann Patchett is a terrific role model for writers who want to give their books depth. Reading her books is like taking a class in character and situation development, but it also makes you revisit your writing and shake your head at how fast your story has moved without enough explanation for the reader.
Yesterday I spent some of my time editing the first two chapters for clarity and got started on my third. Today I plan to add the explanatory passages that add heft to the narrative without (hopefully) slowing it down. And I can always pare later if the whole thing gets too long-winded.
If you have some tips to share or experiences of your own, please leave them here in the comments instead of FB so I can keep a record.