Welcome to Glory week (Buffy fans, wrong place, but stick around, we're a fun bunch)!. Kassia, Max, and Sam spent the weekend debating the finer points of craft and style and, we're proud to say, sentence structure. Yeah, we're going to bring Jonathan Swift into this discussion. And servant girls. You can't talk about All This Heavenly Glory without a discussion about servant girls. Our only hope is that we don't scare Elizabeth Crane (blogging, almost live, here on Wednesday).
[Kassia] When Max introduced Elizabeth's Crane's All This Heavenly Glory, he keyed in on two main elements of this book: the style and subject matter. Interestingly, he noted that "Crane's writing is the main character" -- and while I want to get back to the characterization of Charlotte Anne and "the genre whose name" Max dares not speak (so mysterious!) -- I want to talk about the idea that a writer's style and voice can serve as the catalyst of a novel (or a novel-in-stories as this is probably more properly described).
From the first page of "Ad", I felt like I was racing through the book. Sure, I idled a little bit around "Jesse Jackson, He Lives In Chicago" -- a reader, after all, does need some time to regroup -- but I feel like I was propelled by the author, not the story. Clearly, I'm not complaining, except for maybe about the fact that I stayed up late to finish the thing, but as I reread Max's comments, I find myself wondering if Crane's style makes it easy to mask weaknesses in the story, most notably some character development -- and does it really matter if that's the case?
[Max] I think "racing" is the right word. I thought it was pretty daring of Crane and her editors to launch us into the book that way, and, as a result, the rest of the book really feeds off of that energy. To your point about whether Crane's writing masks weaknesses in character development, I'll concede that perhaps Charlotte Anne isn't terribly distinguishable from a lot of other female protagonists out there, and that the supporting cast doesn't get as much stage time as it perhaps should, but I also think that you can look at the idea of style and subject matter in another way when it comes to this book. Crane's style - which to me was this great blend of the conversational and the complex - felt to me rather fresh when viewed against the rest of the literary fiction landscape. I wonder if we, as readers, see a coming of age story about a woman with all the typical love troubles, family troubles and work troubles, and we find it hard to imagine that this book really could be daring. Along with some solid, straightforward stories, Crane gives us some rather experimental ones as well (not unlike Ander Monson's, in fact, in their tendencies toward lists and stream of consciousness). But I feel like it's hard for me and for other readers to believe that a book about this character that follows this storyline could be daring and experimental, and yet when you look at the writing itself, this book is anything but typical.
[Kassia] You make an excellent point about the difficulty of seeing a coming-of-age story about a woman with the usual litany of woman troubles (this is, by the way, not the same thing as female problems, though I've never been entirely sure what those might be) with anything but a "been there, read that" attitude. I read a lot of the genre-that-we-will-name-later in the early days, mostly because I believed the editors when they said they were looking for stories that pushed the boundaries. This did not turn out to be as true as one would hope. In many ways, Charlotte Anne is a typical women's fiction heroine (right down to the younger man fantasy!).
And in far more ways, she is not typical. These type of stories are traditionally very linear and often focused on a finite period of time. There seems to be a real fear of letting an author run wild; yet Crane's publisher took this risk, making this a great read for those who wouldn't pick up this type of story and for those who feel like screaming at the thought of another, okay, I'm going to say it, chicklit novel covering the young woman/job troubles/man troubles terrain. I will point, by way of example, to the title story, "All This Heavenly Glory". This felt like a real woman having a obsessive meltdown over a guy, not a character who can't be too insane because we have to like her, and likeable women are not psycho.
In addition to adding experimental stories and breathless sentence structure (not to mention the extreme use of parentheticals within parentheticals), Crane bounces back and forth from childhood to adulthood, picking up pieces of CA's life and tying them to other stories. I got the sense she wrote without a definite order in mind, then put the stories together after, but this comes mainly from certain mentions of the fates of other characters, such as Rachel.
I noticed that Crane took an approach in character development that I'm not sure I like -- I've seen it in other books recently as well, and it may like first-person present tense, something I just need to get used to -- where she tends to pick up her character's story during those moments in between life-changing events. I felt that a big omission, from a reader's standpoint, was CA's alcoholism. This was something big enough to be mentioned twice on the cover flap, yet I didn't the get the sense that CA was any more or less an alcoholic than the average person.
Tune in tomorrow for more Glory. Jonathan Swift makes the promised guest appearance (with the servant girl) and at least one Click-Clack confession is made.