Wednesday, April 3, 2013

So an adverb walks into a prologue...

Alice Springs Nikki Gemmell

“This is the account of six months in the life of Snip Freeman, a woman who turned her back on a man who was drowning. She was a painter with a waitressing problem, a wanderer…She wasn’t anchored, she touched the earth lightly, she’d visit a place and find a man and a studio and a scrap of a job until the zing of uncertainty pulled her on.”

Thus begins Alice Springs, the second novel (originally published as Cleave) by Australian author Nikki Gemmell.

And with these few lines - in a Prologue, off all places - I was hooked. Here’s why:

1. Curiosity: Who is the drowning man? Is the drowning literal or metaphorical? Why did she turn her back, and did he actually drown afterward? I’m insatiably curious and I need to know!

2. Resonance: Sometimes a book rings so true that I absolutely have to see what happens. In Alice Springs, the female wanderer, the woman who moves from place to place, pulled by the “zing of uncertainty,” that’s me! Before I had my children, I’d never lived in any one city or town for more than a couple of years, the longest stretch being college (split across two schools in different states). I’ve always been drawn to the lure of the unknown, the possibilities, the what-could-happens of a new place. With the arrival of kids though, my priorities have shifted and I now have a home base, a house in the suburbs in a good school district. And as they’ve gotten older we trek together on little adventures, slowly branching out from hikes through local parks to day trips to overnights to week-long excursions in exotic-ish locales. And I love it, I do, but to follow the siren song of the open road for even just a few hours, pure bliss.

3. Rebellion: I read a lot of writing advice, probably too much at times, using it as busywork when my writing doesn’t flow. And three of the many oft-repeated tips are  (1) no prologues, (2) no adverbs, and (3) show, don’t tell. Gemmell happily breaks every one of these “rules” in the first few sentences, and it really works. Had she chosen to plunge into the tale with Chapter 1 - a backstory of Snip as a kid - I’m not sure I would’ve been so drawn in. Sometimes you have to tell it how it is, in a prologue, with a carefully chosen adverb or two. You just do.

So roped in by the first few words, I brought home the book from the library and was mostly not disappointed. It gets a little bogged down in description - beautiful, poetic prose mind you, but perhaps a little too much of a good thing. But overall a good story with absolutely stellar intimate scenes, Gemmell’s forte for sure. Not raunchy or raw, for the most part - I’ll get to those in my review of The Bride Stripped Bare, coming soon - but expertly written scenes of basic human interaction and emotion. Loved it.

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