04 March 2008

Characters and island suspense

Here's another set of comments I wrote about a Laurie R. King book. It's dated February 2004, but that can't be right. I wouldn't have been at Sidetrack in February and Kris wouldn't have been bringing guests at that time of year. Reading the entry carefully, I find I wrote this in July '03 and only got around to posting it at ReadingOnTheWeb in February.

Here's another of my favorite King books.

I was at Sidetrack for the purpose of cleaning and preparing the place for Kris and her friends from Madison who would arrive the next week. I was also dealing with the death of a cell phone thanks to the misfeasance of somebody at Amery's Radio Shack store. Oh, and there was a free range cat that kept hanging out on the deck between hunting trips. I thought it was the neighbor's cat. But the neighbor hadn't been around for two days.

I didn't get as much cleaning done as I'd intended. I was trapped by a book: Folly by Laurie R. King.

King first came to my attention as the author of a series of books about Mary Russell, a young woman who becomes a partner of Sherlock Holmes. Those were quite enjoyable. King also wrote four mystery novels about Kate Martinelli, a San Francisco detective. She's also written a couple other novels about interesting characters.

None of them prepared me for Folly. There are portrayals here of depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome that set my teeth on edge. There's also the story of the brave and intelligent woman at the center of the book who struggles mightily with her feelings and her madness. There are enough real threats to add to the imagined ones to make the suspense palpable. Rae Newborn, the woman at the center of the stories, is living alone on one of the San Juan islands (i.e. no other island residents). The suspense in the story telling was enough to keep me from reading it after dark while I was alone at Sidetrack, even when there were neighbors here.

But it wasn't just the very well-told story that kept me reading that July afternoon when I should have been washing and vacuuming. It was the characters. King has always populated her novels with interesting people: the young woman at Oxford who seeks out a retired beekeeper as a mentor, a "retired" adventurous detective who keeps accepting commissions from highly-placed friends, a cop whose life away from the office is more important to her than the professional dedication she gives to law enforcement, and the quiet deprogrammer who infiltrated a dangerous sect for example.

Folly focuses on four generations of a family and the representatives of these generations are wonderfully drawn. The resilient main character is most complete, but the others appear as real people as well. It's not that I'd like to spend a lot of time with these people, but before I was very far into the book, I cared about them. Even the characters around the edges of the story are bright and clear.

So what makes this a wonderfully excellent book are the characterizations, the portrayals of imperfect people finding ways of coping, the carefully-told suspenseful tale, and the way it drew me into the world created by Laurie R. King. But that's just my opinion.

I finished the book only an hour ago, and I can already pick out some gimmicks and plot devices that I might criticize. But this book doesn't deserve nit picking. It deserves to be read and enjoyed.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the Pulitizer-winning book I wrote about in the last issue was not, to my mind, a great American novel. This may not be either, but it's better. And the tensions between sanity and insanity, struggle and acceptance, and love and resentment are as profound and universal as the themes of Chabon's book. If he can win a Pulitzer, Laurie R. King deserves one too.

What do you think?

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