Daily Archives: May 3, 2010

THINGS CHANGE

When I started this project last October I thought that I’d wrap it up as soon as my thesis was written. It’s written. In fact I finished it in March and got thumbs up from my committee. In June I make a thirty-minute oral defense of my work. My discoveries from writing this blog will be a huge part of my commentary.

I’m so glad I did this! It has made a huge difference in my understanding of what goes on in the opening of a novel and it focused my attention on what I was reading and how it motivated me forward.

So what has changed?

The format, mostly. I must recognize Susan Bell and her wonderful book THE ARTFUL EDIT. From her insightful work I have added several categories to my postings, including language, structure and foreshadowing. Ms. Bell offers excellent advise to writers on how to view their work for the purpose of editing – not over editing, but self editing. I recommend it highly.

Another format addition. I’ve added a category called THEMATIC PREAMBLE. Most significant works offer a three or four page cycle at the very beginning of the story that parallels the main story. An excellent example of this is John Irving’s CIDER HOUSE RULES where the book opens with a generic tale that segues into the story of Homer Wells and the orphanage. Often times a prologue will serve as a thematic preamble.

The thing that hasn’t changed is that I love writing these reviews. Even though I’ve finished my thesis assignment and am scheduled for September graduation I enjoy these close readings and commenting on what will happen after the first ten pages are over.

So for now, I’ll continue to write reviews every now and then, in between the collection of short stories that are due in August for me to graduate.

Thanks for reading.

Leave a comment

Filed under Just the way I see it

TWILIGHT / Stephanie Meyer

TWILIGHT / Stephanie Meyer. 2005 (498 pgs)  First Ten Pages = 2.01% of total book

First (& Last) Sentence-Preface:  “I’d never given much thought to how I would die – though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.” [had to include the last sentence of the preface] “The hunter smiled in a friendly way as he sauntered forward to kill me.”

First Paragraph-Chapter One: “My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt – sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka.”

Prevailing Narrative Voice:  The voice is consistently that of the first person adolescent girl narrator who is the story’s main character. The story is from her point of view and from her perspective. Tension is heightened by placement in the relatively recent past tense. The sauntering stalker in the short preface is particularly creepy.

What the reader learns in the first paragraphs: Much effort is made by the narrator to show the huge environmental differences between the warm and sunny home she is leaving (mom) to the cold, rainy and sunless climate of Forks, Washington where she will live with Charlie, her father who is police chief of this very small town.

What the reader learns in the first ten pages:  Isabella “Bella” Swan, the narrator, who her father calls “Bells”, has voluntarily agreed to live with her dad so her mom can travel with her new husband. Bella has great reservations about her new arrangement, and since she is familiar with Forks from previous visits, she understands the sacrifice she is making for her mother; sacrifice – human, ritualistic and self – being prevailing thematic aspects of this story’s plot and premise. The story begins leisurely with the main events being Bella’s departure form Phoenix and arrival in Forks, where her dad gives her a cool, old truck he acquired from a buddy on the nearby Indian reservation. The early pages of this book cue the reader to settle in for a story of an unassuming girl who dreads the prospect of being bored out of her mind in small town USA. For anyone remotely familiar with the movie and the four sequel books, they know boredom will not be Bella’s problem. The Preface indicates this, but Prefaces are often out of context, as this one is, so they don’t seem to have a bearing on the simple realities presented in the subsequent chapter. I imagine that as the book goes on the reader understands how Bella recognizes her killer and is oddly resigned in the face of this danger.

Language: The language is clear, unadorned and personal as if taken from a sophisticated diary. These are the episodes of a young woman who offers her story without fanfare or hesitation. In these early pages the events – actual plot and her considerations regarding her actions – move steadily forward without recapitulation. In a simple statement to herself in front of the bathroom mirror Bella says, “…if I couldn’t find a niche in a school with three thousand people, what were my chances here?” Bella seems to have a clear picture of herself and in so gives the reader the benefit of narration that is easy to negotiate.

Setting: Having seen the film adaptation of this book it is fair that Bella concentrates on the differences between where she has lived in Phoenix with her mom and the rainy and dank atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest. Over these several pages her anticipation gives way to ambivalence, which becomes a running theme.  Her environmental change and acceptance of her circumstances represent the vast psychological differences in the light and dry world of the mother and the wet and fertile rainforest of the father. It is an unusual twist in the portrayal of male and female concept.

Character:  All characters are projected via Bella’s perspective. Other people in the story take on aspects of stock characters as viewed through the lens of Bella’s youth. Bella and her voice is the constant through which all other perceptions must pass. Bella’s narration and thereby the projection of the unfolding story becomes somewhat tedious in the first ten pages. If the narrator isn’t having a good time, how can the reader expect to have one? Of course, if you’ve heard the buzz about the story, Bella will be running with a different crowd very quickly, and the company she keeps will be challenging to keep up with.

Structure (Rhythm, Tension): Bella is working hard to mitigate the huge life change she is undergoing at the beginning of the story and so the structure is highly controlled and awkwardly nonchalant. Bella is making a great sacrifice for her mother’s benefit. In this seemingly small amount of pages we are given a significant insight to her character, which reflects in the early story’s intentional lack of dramatic roll and pitch. If not for the mysterious and threatening preface, Bella’s story would be much more of an uphill climb for the reader. The risk of losing the reader in the early pages would be far greater.

Thematic Preamble: The preface serves as somewhat of a thematic preamble, mostly in the way that it makes a provocative statement and then abruptly ends at a high point of anticipation. The fact that Bella has a somewhat casual, or at least non-hysterical relationship to her potential murderer, recurs throughout this series of novels.

Foreshadowing, Plot & Expectations beyond page ten: It is unfair for me to indicate the intention of the story from these first ten pages as if I had no idea where they are going. I’ve seen the movie. However, knowing what I do (in the same way I had seen the movie of GONE WITH THE WIND prior to reviewing it on this blog) I must say that the preface does a great job of preparing the reader for Bella’s odd upcoming circumstance. I must also comment on the cover art – a pair of translucently pale forearms offering a vividly red apple with both hands. The combination of the nestled apple, its luscious juiciness reverently protected, parallels the loaded meaning of Bella as offered and offering.

Random Comments:  Wikepedia says: After multiple publishing rejections the novel was the biggest selling book of 2008 and, to date, has sold 17 million copies worldwide, spent over 91 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and been translated into 37 different languages. It is the first book of the Twilight series, and introduces seventeen-year-old Isabella “Bella” Swan, who moves from Phoenix, Arizona to Forks, Washington and finds her life in danger when she falls in love with a vampire, Edward Cullen. The novel is followed by New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn. A film adaptation of Twilight was released in 2008. It was a commercial success, grossing more than $382 million worldwide and an additional $157 million from North American DVD sales, as of July 2009.

2 Comments

Filed under first10pages review