Another week gone by and still I find myself not in possession of The Marriage Plot for three reasons. First, I had to get over my general crankiness about Mockingjay. Second, I really didn’t want to drive to the bookstore on my very lazy Sunday of football, chili and baking bread. Third, I realized that I still haven’t read The Lost Memory of Skin byRussell Banks. But Lost Memory should in no way be thought of as a consolation prize since the Very BrilliantRussell Bankshas been a favorite author of mine for many, many years.
I first read his short story Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story in college and it (along with Don DeLillo’s Videotape) greatly altered my own writing. I used to put a painful amount of energy into plot and things I thought were of vital importance but didn’t interest me. Characters have always come more naturally to me than storyline andRussell Banks(though he has no problem with plot) brings to life the most fascinating and complicated characters. Three dimensional and unpredictable (or completely predictable in the way some characters will be—in the way some people will be) and so compulsively interesting that the story is about them and not about what they’re doing or what’s going on around them. Since I brought up DeLillo I should say that his contribution to my Thoughts On Writing was in the way a story is structured, or completely unstructured. Also, that there are so many tools at my disposal without having to resort to tricks. (Tools being intelligent and clever and offering suspense rather than surprise, while Tricks are used to shock the reader without having much depth.)
My two favoriteRussell Banks novels are The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction. Both are representative of what I mean by a story being character driven. What happens in The Sweet Hereafter is this: a school bus accident kills almost all of the passengers on board. This happens right away. The rest of the book is the way characters cope with the aftermath. The way they crave or resist the relationships offered to them. How they either deal with the past or cling to it.
The Lost Memory of Skin is “about” a young man in his early 20’s who is a convicted sex offender. (Did I mention that Banks also has a talent for making you not only like but relate to the “bad guy”?) I’m loving this book. It’s unlike the other books I’ve read—much different from the book before this one, The Reserve. The voices are pitch perfect and work to be both completely honest and yet slightly evasive. I know I have zero chance of getting any reading done this weekend, so it will be nice to pick it up again Monday morning. After the reading frenzy of the Hunger Games, it’s wonderful to have a book in my hands that is languid and indulgent.
Have a wonderful weekend!