[Sam] Both of you mentioned how the narrative seemed to race. Happened to me too, though I can't say exactly why. Just out of curiosity, I turned to my shelf of writing manuals and asked Auden's favorite question: "Here is a verbal contraption. How does it work?"
Well, hell, I actually never found the answer. Maybe it's all those digressions and changes of direction:
"Charlotte and Rachel go out to the terrace (actually an unfettered black tar roof partially shaded by a large water tower) to fill up the plastic baby pool, which they're admittedly past the age for, but they figure they can cool off and splash around for a laugh.
However, I did come across a funny parallel in Herbert Read's 1928 neglected masterpiece, English Prose Style. In the chapter, "Sentences," Read provides many examples of long, stately sentences, models of balance and the careful deployment of emphasis — none resembling Crane's. But then Read adds:
"Not all long and complex sentences have the architectural harmony of the period. Many such sentences are often in the nature of an agglomeration of inconsistent and unrelated clauses, and should really be split up into several sentences. There is an extreme example in a letter of Swift's, which shows that Swift could on occasion write like a servant girl:
"Last year a paper was brought here from England, called a Dialogue between the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mr. Higgins, which we ordered to be burnt by the common hangman, as it well deserved, though we have no more to do with his Grace of Canterbury than you have with the Archbishop of Dublin, whom you suffer to be abused openly, and by name, by that paltry rascal of an observator; and lately upon an affair, wherein he had no concern; I mean, the business of the missionary of Drogheda, wherein our excellent primate was engaged, and did nothing but according to law and discretion.'"
Funny, huh? I guess our idea of how a spunky young woman would write hasn't changed much in the past 80 years. Only we value spontaneity a little more highly than old man Read did.
But the narrative style in ATHG is a little more complicated than "girl tells her own story." Don't know if you noticed, but of the 17 stories in ATHG only four are in the first person — the ones that take place in the present day. Stories set in Charlotte's youth are told in the third person. (There's also a story told in the second person, just to keep you guessing.)
The third-person stories are kind of a puzzle. They are third-person, but also really imbued with the adult Charlotte's language and perspective. As a result, they feel (to me anyway) as if Charlotte was telling these stories from behind a veil, full of feelings about the events she describes in her past, but for some reason distant from those feelings too. The third-person stories left me uneasy in a way the first-person stories don't. Either of you guys feel this way?
[Kassia] I have discovered a new appreciation for 18th-century servant girls, if they indeed wrote in such a manner. I like your description of Read's sentences (though I thought we agreed that real bloggers don't do research) as "long, stately sentences, models of balance and the careful deployment of emphasis, none resembing Crane's." Well-balanced sentences are surely indicative of a well-balanced mind, and while I cannot presume to speak for Crane's mental state, it is clear that Charlotte Anne has not achieved the mind-like-water state.
The use of third- versus first-person point-of-view seems to tie into a comment I made about gaps in CA's history. Much of what happens in her life is off the page, and since it's clear that Crane made a deliberate choice to divide the timeline by POV, it makes me wonder why CA, the character, has to hide so much of her childhood. She is much more open about Rachel and Karen Pink-Park than she is about herself -- the stories featuring her mother feel especially distant to me. It is interesting that one of the final stories, where it appears that CA has finally gotten it (whatever it is) together, is written in third person, though it's chronologically later than most of the other stories.
One thing I must say I admire about Elizabeth Crane: her memory for the ephemera of the seventies, eighties, and nineties is awesome. Click-Clacks -- the debates I had with my mother over those (right up until she confiscated the ones I talked my grandmother into buying -- apparently they were dangerous to younger siblings, which is something I'd already factored into the equation). These are the details that ground this story in place and time. Amy up the street had a Beautiful Crissy doll (she had all the cool dolls), you have to love a guy who actually listens to Yo La Tengo, and, well, haven't we all watched the Donny & Marie Show (or your generational equivalent thereof)?
[Sam] Stay away from me with those click-clacks ...
Kassia, I really wasn't conscious of gaps. But I don't think I followed the story line as carefully as I might have. I remember being really surprised when I read the jacket copy after finishing the book:
"Here are the events that make up a life: a junior high-school fashion crisis, a best friends betrayal, substance abuse, recovery, finding a satisfying career, dating fiascos, the perfect relationship, the illness and slow death of a parent ... In her lifetime Charlotte encounters hope and disappointment mingled with faith and desperation, laughter on the heels of weeping, the success assuaging the pain of the most embarrassing failures — her path both all her own and instantly familiar."
Was this the book I just read? I think I was too wound up in the language, and humor, and quirks of the narrative to step back and think about Charlotte as a traditional struggling heroine. Maybe I would have gotten there eventually, but I'm not sure. It's hard to always bring to books the sympathy they deserve, isn't it?
[Max] Sam, your quoting the book jacket copy of ATHG illustrates a point I've been thinking about lately, one that (and you'll forgive me for this) plays a part in the James Frey fiasco that's been unfolding: it's really hard to market and sell books. When compared to other forms of entertainment, books don't have much going for them. There are no movie trailers or TV commercials, no radio airtime or MTV, and no guest appearances on talk shows. Excepting a very small percentage of authors who do get the star treatment, the most a typical book gets in the way of publicity is the book itself. The way the book looks and what is written on the back cover is hugely important to how a book is received by the buying public, and that's an awfully small canvas to work with - and so perhaps we try to label a book memoir instead of fiction to make that book jacket more appealing.
An aside: When I worked at the bookstore, I met a young woman author (I can't remember her name) who was just devastated by the pastel pink "chick-lit" book cover that her publisher had put on what, to her, was a serious work of fiction about a female protagonist.
But getting back to ATHG (I think discussing this book causes *us* to digress), I was struck also by Sam's analysis of the narrative voice of the stories in this collection. Though I didn't think about it when I read it, now I wonder what the collection would have been like had all the stories been in the first person. So much of ATHG seems to dwell inside Charlotte Anne's head anyway, I wonder if the book would have felt too internal if the book had been all first person. On the other hand, it seems that the first-person stories lend themselves more readily to Crane's experimental tendencies.
[Kassia takes advantage of technology to get the last word] I know more than a few of those women who received pink covers and felt like they'd been misrepresented or pigeon-holed (though we all know there's no crying in publishing). And in reviewing the jacket copy in relation to the book, I wonder if there was some sort of notion on the part of the publisher of reaching out to the chicklit market. Then, for whatever reason, this marketing plan seemed to fall through. There is a notion that you can't always market literary to the genre crowd and vice versa. Which I think is a shame. We need to reach as many readers as possible, and most of these divisions are artificial to me.