My-Friend-Jarrod is like one of those fortune-telling Magic 8 Balls; you know the ones – shake it, ask a burning question, get an answer. Thankfully Jarrod is not actually a Magic 8 Ball, because his answers are far more useful than “Reply hazy try again” or “Outlook not so good”.
When I asked him to recommend books or films “with non-linear narrative structure and several points of view and possibly an unreliable narrator” to help with my novel, he had an immediate reply: “Better not tell you now.” Bugger off 8 Ball. He had an immediate reply:
“Adaptation (film), The Hours (book or film) and my absolute favorite book in the world,” he said, “Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver.”
And to you, dear reader, I can on-recommend the lot. Thank you My-Friend-Jarrod. But let’s talk about Animal Dreams. Here’s the best sentence in the book:
“I felt emptied out and singing with echoes, unrecognizable to myself: that particular feeling like your own house on the day you move out.” (9).
Sigh. Read it again. Doesn’t that just break your heart with its beauty and leave you gasping for breath and doubting every sentence you’ve ever written or will write ever again? It is just one of many passages I read and reread, and copied out. Kingsolver makes the words she chooses work hard. She is considered. She understands people. And she transmutes her characters with this understanding, engaging the reader with Cosima, Homer, Halle, Loyd-with-one-L and others.
The structure is indeed interesting (non-linear – tick; several points of view – well, two – tick; unreliable narrator – tick). Cosima’s first person, present tense story is interspersed with flashbacks and letters to and from her sister Halle. Cosima’s sections are long and develop most of the story. Her father Homer provides the second point of view. His chapters are short and less frequent. His third-person story is set in the present and sometimes the past – the reader is not always clear which. This technique reflects Homer’s decaying mental state. Clever, huh?
The story is about a high-achieving child turned working at 7-11 adult, Cosima, returning to her small home town to be reminded of who she used to be, to question her murky family history, to look after Homer (sort of), to bonk Loyd-with-one-L and help the Stich and Bitch club save the town’s water supply. The sub-plot is the danger of Halle’s aid work in Nicaragua; say no more.
Is it a great book? “It is decidedly so.”
Is it a five star book? “Most likely.”
Then why did you give it four stars? “Cannot predict now.”
And is My-Friend-Jarrod the greatest friend a girl could have? “It is certain.”