When I'm about to do something risky, like run across a busy street - living in Chicago and mostly carless (not careless), I find myself doing this fairly often - I look both ways first. Maybe I tiptoe out into the first lane to get a few feet of pavement out of the way. If I've misjudged - as occasionally happens when crossing a six-laner like Michigan Ave., for example - I'll stop halfway and repeat the process.
And maybe Elizabeth Crane doesn't think she's taking a risk when she picks up a pen, or turns on the laptop, more likely, but her book, All This Heavenly Glory, seemed to me, a brilliant exercise in risk-taking. To return to my, admittedly pedestrian (groan), street-crossing analogy, Crane, in this book, puts her head down and sprints across the street, heedless of oncoming traffic, potholes, pitfalls, etc. She certainly doesn't tiptoe, not at first anyway. Crane's book is what is sometimes called a novel in stories. All of the 18 stories are about Charlotte Anne Byers, and they take us through, in somewhat time-scattered fashion, her life from age 6 to 40. Byers - a transplanted New Yorker, child of divorced parents, aspiring filmmaker (among many other aspirations large and small) - is the heart and soul of this book, but Crane's writing is the main character. As such, what I really had in mind, above, with that road crossing analogy nonsense, was the book's first story, "Ad." Without a prelude or preamble, Crane launches the reader into a stylistically adventurous ramble that takes the form of a newspaper personal ad. But if those ads, traditionally trimmed and tight, are just sips, Crane's "Ad" is a fire hose, it careens on for several pages, introducing the reader, in trial by fire fashion, to her cavalier use of punctuation and her ability to run a sentence onward to breathtaking lengths without coming off the tracks, as it were. Stylistically, her stories settle down a bit after that, but don't be fooled by the subject matter: a woman's trials and tribulations in love, family and employment. Crane is not to be lumped into the genre whose name I dare not speak.
There is a plaintiveness and sadness here. Rough-edges, too - the story "Harold the Filmmaker" was cited as an example of this by my fellow Co-opers (who also likened her prose to that of David Foster Wallace). In the end, Crane lays it all out on the page, the spirit of her character, Charlotte Anne, as well as adventurous linguistic experimentation (here I speak of 1. Crane's penchant for asides, 2. discursions, and 3. of course, lists) and deviations from the stylistically static fiction that appears in most literary publications. When I first read All This Heavenly Glory, I described it as "rambunctious, elbows-flailing prose" and that still seems like a good enough description to me.
January 30 to February 3 will be "Glory week" at the LBC, featuring a podcast interview with the author and other fun stuff. Mark your calendars!