Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Damn, Sara

After yesterday's harsh indictment of over-zealous praisers, I thought I should put my money where my mouth is and give an example of a book that I truly adore.

This is a perfect example of the sort of praise I think is justified because:

  1. The author does not need my praise - she has plaudits from the likes of Grafton and Lippman as well as plenty of starred reviews
  2. Praise from any quarter is, unfortunately, not going to be enough to offset the very real challenge her book faces in the market (the slim audience for strong noir heroines)
  3. Praising this author does not help me in any way as we don't write the same type of book and we don't run in the same professional circles

Okay, now that we got that out of the way...

I probably shouldn't admit this, but it's pretty rare that I read a book and think that the author has accomplished anything I couldn't, given enough time and motivation.

But in CLAIRE DEWITT AND THE CITY OF THE DEAD, Sara Gran pulls off feats I haven't even thought to envy.

Everything about this book is hard to pin down - its mood, its protagonist's credibility, its relationship to the known world (it will not surprise Gran newcomers to discover she has written about the supernatural in the past), its aspirations - if any. That it may be the first in a series is, I suppose, a plan, but a vague one; one definitely gets the sense that the book pulled the author along, rather than the opposite.

I had a thousand different thoughts as I read; I bent back countless pages, then found that I couldn't remember why (sorry, person to whom I intend to give this book to next). Maybe the best way to express my reaction is to explain how, in my view, others got it wrong.

Laura Lippman says the book "reminds me why I fell in love with the genre," but the book - ostensibly an old-school detective novel - wanders from the well-trod path in important ways.

The NYTBR calls Claire a "charmer" - seriously? It is her utter lack of charm, her rawness, that makes her unlookawayfromable.

"Lots of fun," says Booklist. I don't recall a single moment of fun in the book. Fun would have poison, anathema, blistering ruin to a book that enveloped me with its bleakness.

Library Journal compared Gran to Charlie Huston. There might be something to that, actually. 

In the book, Claire says - quoting her mentor - "Be grateful for every scar life inflicts on you...Where we're unhurt is where we are false. Where we're wounded and healed is where our real self gets to show itself."  

That's what this book is - wounds revealing the people who bear them, told masterfully. More, more, please.

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