It’s not exactly writer’s block. But I have chronic difficulty writing about exceptional books and great American authors.
How long has it been since I promised to finish my review of J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy?” Is it a novel about small-town life, or hypocrisy, or intolerance, or poverty? Local politics gone crazy, or class warfare? Darned if I know. I’d have to read the whole thing again to sort it all out. (Rowling is British, but her story resounds in American culture.)
As I read the final page of “The Casual Vacancy,” I was struck speechless. Partly it’s a sense of grief that the book is over. Partly it’s awe at the author’s virtuoso performance. What can I say but, “Bravo!”?
Among contemporary authors, Ann Patchett amazes me the most. I never wrote a word about Patchett’s “State of Wonder.” What could I say? What kind of story is it, science fiction? Corporate treachery vs. scientific deception? Human hubris? The premise is a discovery so unlikely that you find yourself believing it, combined with an adventure so implausible that it has to be real. Yet it’s all nothing more than a figment — an elaborate figment — of Patchett’s hyperactive imagination! (Patchett and the following authors are all American originals.)
Blogger’s note: This review was originally published in December 2007, in three installments, on my first WordPress blog, Maryland On My Mind. Time flies, posts get buried, new blogs are born, and great books live forever. The original review has been deleted from the old blog in compliance with search engine policy. — John Hayden
Ann Patchett’s ‘Run’ — Preview
Dec. 8, 2007 — When you read about Bernard Doyle, the former Boston mayor with great ambitions for his sons, you can’t help but free-associate: Kennedy. At least I can’t. Two of the sons are named Tip and Teddy!
And then I free-associate: Skeffington. Bernard Doyle and Frank Skeffington. Two Irish-Catholic mayors who loved their city, and were beloved by many. The voters turned on both of them. Doyle told a lie to protect his family and faded away without achieving his own ambitions. Skeffington stayed on too long. Again, I free-associate: William Donald Schaefer, late great mayor of Baltimore.
Ann Patchett reminds me of Edwin O’Connor. I discovered O’Connor’s 1956 novel, The Last Hurrah,in high school, and read all his other books. The two authors have insights about the same subjects — people, politics, family, God — and breath-taking writing talent, honed by attention and effort.