Some technical issues, as well as finals issues, have caused a slight extension of the discussions of our Read This! title this go-around - we'll still be posting to Matthew Eck and The Farther Shore links at least through the weekend instead of stopping tomorrow.
Today, however, there was an Eck spotting online, as CAAF got Matthew to write a "5x5" post over at About Last Night!
I first heard of Matthew Eck, and his novel, last year at AWP. I was walking the floor of the various booths and tables and bumped into him at the Pleiades location - he's their Fiction Editor. We chatted for a bit and during the course of our conversation about books, I found out his own book, The Farther Shore, his debut, would be coming out from Milkweed the following year, though, I recall having to drag the fact out of him. Wandering over to the Milkweed booth a short while later, I realized just what a poor job Matthew was doing in regards to the author being his/her own publicist. According to the Milkweed catalogue, The Farther Shore was their National Fiction Prize Winner - leading Matthew to join such authors as Susan Straight, Larry Watson, and Gary Amdahl, to name a few. All I could think is that if I had won this prize, you couldn't stop me from dropping the fact into every conversation I had from that point forward. Milkweed's Marketing Manager, Emily Cook, both assured me that she thought I'd love the book, and that I'd be seeing a copy for sure.
As you might imagine, many books do find their way to my home. Be it via publishers as review copies, titles I buy on my own, or those loaned or given to me by friends, many titles arrive that while I sincerely hope to spend time with them, it just never happens. There just aren't enough hours in the day. Each and every one is looked at though. All of them are cracked open at the very least.
The Farther Shore begins:
It was full dark, midnight, and heat like that should have disappeared. Then the bombing started. Those poor souls, the poor fucks of the city, had no idea we were watching from the rooftop of the tallest building in town, six sets of eyes in the night, calling in rounds from the circling AC-130 Spectres. When they fired too close to the city's edge we'd make a call for them to move further out, into the unknown. When they veered too far out over the desert, we made another call. It was a tightrope, a balancing act, a burden we adored. We were spotters on the roof, recon in a city controlled by warlords and their clans.
It's the type of beginning that reels me in as a reader - the writing is spare, yet descriptive. A situation is revealed that leads me to believe there's room for an interesting plot. As I read further, I realized that Eck was fulfilling the promise of his opening paragraph. Before the first chapter is over, a firefight breaks out and the two or three pages it covers were read with increased speed as Eck very aptly switched gears and brought full-on excitement and action to the page, while maintaining the excellent use of language. There most certainly was going to be an interesting plot - a small group of soldiers get separated from the rest of their unit and need to find their way back, through warring clans safely.
When contemporary writers are compared to other contemporary writers, in regards to writing about war, a name frequently bandied about is Tim O'Brien. It must be a scary comparison for most new writers, having The Things They Carried on the other side of the scale your title is on. One area that I think Eck deserves this comparison is how he allows, or even expects, his readers to make determinations in regards to situations he's written of, especially the morality of the actions his protagonist, Josh Stanz, takes. Eck doesn't come out and say what is good or bad; he doesn't have Josh think about these things either - things that need to get done, do get done, and that's all there is to it. Eck allows the reader to decide whether or not the means justified the end.
Another aspect of Eck's writing that I found appealing was his usage of a specific scenario, and done so in a way that brought about common scenarios from various wars. And maybe not even wars, as in global fights, specifically. I think that Eck's writing and Stanz's dealings can even be applied to individuals not serving in the miliary during a war time. I think that the way Stanz goes about his life once separated from his unit, how he deals with his problem, is comparable to how anybody else has to deal with their own.
I'm very excited that my fellow LBC members also took a shine to Matthew Eck and The Farther Shore. We will be discussing the title here and the various LBC member websites the week of December 10 - I know there are a couple of interviews planned, a podcast interview planned, as well as some more detailed posts about The Farther Shore. We hope you'll Read This! and join us in the conversation.