The first book of 2008 to make me cry

I have no idea why I lifted my ban on “buzz” books to read Ian McEwan’s Atonement this week, especially now that the movie’s out, but I’m really glad that I did.

I spent a good portion of my time while reading Atonement fretting. The book came highly recommended by my writing teacher Dale. Despite an inexplicable penchant for Alice Munro, I really respect and admire Dale’s taste. So when I found myself wondering, while reading, what in the hell it was that made this book so special, I worried. First I worried that I got suckered into reading some sort of shitty Alice Munro-like book that was supposed to be all quiet and beautiful or some such bullshit. Second I worried that maybe I would have to reevaluate my perceptions of Dale’s taste.

But all’s well that ends well in this case. I finished reading Atonement this afternoon, and when I finished the last sentence I put my head down and cry. It was beautiful. While I feared for a long time that I was reading a boring, old war story, what I was really reading was this masterfully crafted paean to sisterhood, truth, writing, war in England, love, and atonement. Shit, y’all this gets my highest praise. . . it’s really fucking good.

It’s hard to talk about the plot without giving too much away. But basically, thirteen-year-old Briony lies about seeing something and puts a man in prison. The man? Her sister’s boyfriend. The story is rife with conflict. But it’s the ending here that’s really the magic.

I’ve been thinking a lot about endings. As a writer, I am a terrible ender. I can’t end anything and often just stop when I run out of time or get bored. Neither method is looked upon highly by readers.

I’ve recently read two books with endings that have puzzled me. Amy Bloom’s Away is a great, engaging, entertaining book until the last five pages when it goes all to hell. The ending’s not just bad, it’s confusing, which is the worst thing an ending can be. Now Christopher Moore’s LAMB: The Gospel according to Biff, Christ’s childhood pal, is the exact opposite. His book is kind of mediocre and dull, until the end when KAPOW! he smacks you in the face with some brilliance.

They can both take a lesson from McEwan who starts with a bang and meanders a bit in the middle (if boring war stories are your thing, then you will find no meandering), and then smacks you on the ass with an ending that makes you glad you read every single page.

The last four or five pages of Atonement are so damn good that I think I’m going to read them again before I start Loorie Moore’s Self-Help.

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5 Comments

  1. christa 24.Jan.08 at 1:42 pm

    i think that’s why i didn’t hate “then we came to the end” as much as you did. i actually really liked the way the last sentence hit. i can’t wait to hear what you think of “self help.” i really like lorrie moore.

    Reply
  2. Jodi 24.Jan.08 at 1:52 pm

    I kinda of love Lorrie Moore already. Birds of America is phenomenal. Plus, my writing gets compared to her all the time, so she must be good, right?

    Reply
  3. christa 24.Jan.08 at 2:40 pm

    awesome. my writing was once compared to erma bombeck. i should have quit that day.

    Reply
  4. Jodi 24.Jan.08 at 2:55 pm

    I loved Erma Bombeck, when I was like 12. My mom had her books laying around and I’d read them all the time. Then I graduated to Flowers in the Attic.

    Reply
  5. Will Tupper 24.Jan.08 at 11:26 pm

    Entirely Unrelated, but you were the first person I thought of when I saw it:

    Mendes, Eggers take on American comedy; Krasinski, Rudolph rumored to star

    American Beauty director Sam Mendes is taking another look at the American family, this time in a comedy written by author Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and his novelist/editor wife, Vendela Vida (And Now You Can Go). The untitled film, which is being produced and co-financed by Big Beach Films (Little Miss Sunshine), follows a couple, pregnant with their first child, as they travel America looking for the ideal place to settle down. Focus Features, which will distribute the film, hasn’t confirmed casting, but John Krasinski (The Office), pictured, and Maya Rudolph (SNL) are rumored to star.

    This will be Mendes’ first film comedy. His last film, the Gulf War drama, Jarhead, drew solid reviews, but fell short of expectations when it was snubbed by the Academy. He’s currently in post-production on the 1950s drama Revolutionary Road, starring his wife, Kate Winslet, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Eggers recently co-wrote the screenplay adaption of Maurice Sendak’s childhood classic, Where the Wild Things Are. The film, co-written and directed by Spike Jonze (Adaptation) was set to open this summer. Warner Bros. recently pushed its release date to 2009. — Reported by Nicole Sperling

    http://hollywoodinsider.ew.com/2008/01/mendes-eggers-t.html

    Reply

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