Saturday, August 14, 2010
Blessings by Anna Quindlen
Blessings was a selection for my daughter's book club. Let me say straight off that I loved it!
A baby is left by the garage of the local "big house" by a couple of teenagers, and found by the handyman who lives over the garage. A strange complicity develops between him and the house's owner, and two people from opposite sides of the social divide enter into a friendship that reconciles their own pasts.
So now I'm going to talk about the rules it breaks. You get a lot of talk on writer blogs about never starting your novel with a backstory dump: Blessings sets up the action and then gives you 70 pages of backstory before the story moves forward. You're told to use short, punchy sentences. Blessings is strewn with long and sometimes somewhat clunky sentences.
So why does it work so well? The answer has to be that the writing is beautiful, the characters are immaculately drawn and very convincing, and the setting gets just enough--but not too much--attention. It struck me that the main story is in fact quite slight, and that without the backstory setup I'd probably be thinking "so what?" as it gets going. But by the time the action gets going, I was so thoroughly invested in the lives of the characters that I devoured the rest of the book.
This is a story to study for its structure. There's something very sure about Quindlen's touch; in a very short read (just over 200 pages) she packs in a lot of literary wallop.