My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am always looking for interesting elements of technique, and Elizabeth Reeder uses two of which I take particular note.
Firstly the repetition of a scene. It is the first scene in the book, the last time Roe saw her father before he disappears. Then the scene is repeated soon after, when she realises he is missing and her perception is coloured by this knowledge. Then at the end of the book it is repeated again, when Roe finds out what has happened to him. This is simple but subtle. It goes to character; how character is changed by events, how perception of the same event is translated, or how aspects take on different significance. Fledgling writers are encouraged to think of the character ‘arc’, so that the character changes throughout, due to story events. This is an encouraging example of how this does not need to be dramatic. Actually I am not sure that Roe does ‘change’, other than to become increasingly more burdened by life’s heavy load – but these repeated scenes demonstrate a responsive, incremental ‘change’, of how we become layered with coatings laid on us by the twists and turns of life.
The second technique is significant in creating Roe’s voice. She is narrating in the first person present tense. She speaks aloud with inverted commas, as do the other characters, but intermingled with this are Roe’s added observations or interpretations, often contradictory, that you have to spot carefully (plaudits to the copy editors). This shows so well how we have at least two versions of ourself, public and private, and how we have to amend or moderate ourselves to fit in. As a device, it is useful for disclosing information without ‘dumping’ it by way of great expository paragraphs.
Lastly I ponder some of the book’s Goodreads reviews, the criticisms of not knowing what is going on because of the use of present tense for both present and past, and lack of tags. I think, overall, this approach creates a rather dreamy feel to the book – and yes, it is true you do sometimes have to re-read a piece of dialogue to see who was speaking and when it took place – but this is so congruent with the weird chemical reaction that occurs in your brain when some huge event happens in life. Roe was being hit with so much, in so few days, I don’t think she had any responsibility to present her story in a way that suits the reader – just the same as you wouldn’t in real life say to someone who has just experienced a big event ‘Well, I must say you are not articulating your trauma very logically.’
So I would sum this novel up as one of congruence, of subtlety and of feeling – and also exciting, because there is never a moment when you are not wondering: ‘What happened?’