10 Lessons from Amy Bloom’s Away

Dear Millicent,

It has been very hot in my city, and I don’t have air conditioning.  This, combined with the end of the semester,  means that I have had a luxurious kind of insomnia for the past couple of days: no sleep, and no alarm clock.  So, it’s me and the cat entertaining ourselves until we cross the 4 o’clock hour (3-4 seems to be the border of today and tomorrow for me).   We read Amy Bloom’s Away last night, and this is what I learned from it (cat agrees with all of my findings):

  1. If you structure your book around a character crossing a variety of landscapes and overcoming various impediments in a bold quest, then you have an instant structure for reader interest.
  2. This goes double if it is set in another century.
  3. Books that have sex or adventure on every other page are read very fast.
  4. Lyrical language is fine, as long as it has enough of the quest/adventure/and sex to save it from rolling into a decorative bramble.  It seems that the lyricism and the formulaic plot save each other.
  5. Sex and adventure don’t have to be graphic or lengthy.  They just have to be there.
  6. Under-represented communities are fascinating to read about.
  7. I am prejudiced towards writers like Bloom (I group her with Ann Patchett and maybe (I feel guilty for even suggesting it) Alice McDermott).  I think what they do is less difficult than what other writers do.  They write fluidly and beautifully, and tell stories about real people that please their audience, but it is a softer beast than Alice Munro’s work,  or Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.  I think I hold it against these writers that their work is so palatable.  I could easily recommend their work to somebody without worrying about their analytical skills.  Which makes me think they are less.
  8. I very much enjoy Bloom’s and Patchett’s work.  I respect it, and am in awe of it.  If I could pick a literary path, theirs are quite nice.
  9. Any book you stay up all night reading is a damn good book in one way or another, even if you are thinking snotty thoughts about how well it is entertaining you and making your enjoy yourself while you read it.
  10. It’s not really that hot when the windows are open, but it is very nice to be the only one awake in an apartment where it is night and the windows are open.  But my feet were still sweating.  The cat did not approve.

Cheers,

CF

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