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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

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Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Friday, January 27, 2006

Of Love and Other Demons, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I'm trying something new this year: I'm going to read 25 books. Somehow, compared to the number of books there are in the world, 25 seems small. But I'm a slow reader and I have a big backlog, so here it is. 2 per month, with one extra to fit in somewhere. I won't write reviews of all of them (do you really need another review of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? That was #1), but I will review the really good ones as faithfully as I can.

Book #2: Of Love and Other Demons: started 1/16, finished 1/18

This has turned out to be a combination of book review and reflection of my own foibles. I apologize if it rambles, but it feels good to get it out a bit, even if it's confined to 1s and 0s.

This was my first Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, and I think it's about time to go get One Hundred Years of Solitude and the rest of his catalogue.

It's funny--the "rule" I concern myself with the most in all my writing (and in my critiques of other writers) is "show don't tell". People in my writing groups get sick of hearing me say it, but I keep saying it. Normally when I come across a case of telling, I get what amounts to a prickly feeling, and a sense of loss. This "rule" exists because when someone tells, they miss the opportunity to convey something, to make the reader feel the appropriate emotion. Catharsis becomes impossible, empathy is blunted, and the connection between the reader and the writer suffers.

Most of the time, that is.

Marquez mixes telling and showing, to a point where, in an amateur's hands, the novel would never come together. I still don't know how he did it, but what he seemed to be doing was saying, "I will tell you about the general facts in this story, of the years wasted and the lives devastated, because we have all wasted years and devastated our own lives. I will show you the smallest hair rising on the priest's arm as he sees his forbidden lover's smile, because that is the only thing worth feeling." The book was a clinic on how to focus the reader's emotions like a laser beam on "the point", while still telling a story where the plot matters.

The book was also tragic and devastating. And probably controversial, though somehow I managed to look past that. It takes place in the XVIII c, on a crippled and dying coastal estate near the Yucatan peninsula. It's the story of a 12-year-old girl who is bitten by a rabid dog, and though she develops no symptoms, she is determined to be possessed by demons, and an exorcism is ordered. The priest in charge of the ritual is in the midst of a crisis of faith, and his life changes when he meets the girl. I don't want to say more... the plot is secondary.

When I finished the book I felt more than ever that this was the kind of book I want to write. My languishing Door Carver character was reflected in this priest's crisis of faith, and perhaps all I need to help him through it is to be 78 years old when I continue the story. Right now I'm concerned about research, wood-carving materials, calligraphic styles used in the 14th century, and "how the economy worked back then". Marquez wouldn't have thought twice about these problems. Those aren't the point of my story or any stories I want to tell, so I should just grow up and say, more or less, "he used a thin instrument create the leaf's fine webbing", right?

Still, as I sit here, not working, I can't let them go. It's probably youth. I'm going to fight past it. Or maybe if I read more Marquez and less Dan Brown, I'll finally break past my block and concentrate on separating what's good from what sucks.

When I went to sleep last night I didn't dream about the priest's elaborate staging of the exorcism. If I had written the book I would have gone into exhaustive detail about it, and you wouldn't have dreamt about that either. What I dreamt of is the love I lost when I was 12 - the look in her eyes as she didn't know what was happening to her, the heart pounding in my chest as I felt like something was supposed to happen after the kiss, but I didn't know what. Marquez telegraphed that into my brain with the skill of a surgeon. The rest was just the filler he didn't care about, but which sells most books on the NYT list and makes said books mostly meaningless.

I'm melancholy now, but I have hope. I hope that I can remember and convey as well at 32 what he does at nearly 90. I hope that with mentors like him around and still writing, I can still learn some new tricks from old dogs. I hope that I can be fight through this and concentrate on what matters most.

Book #3 will be Blood Memory by Greg Iles.

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