Sunday, March 05, 2006

'Ellen Foster' ...

"When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy."

That is the first sentence of "Ellen Foster," the debut novel by Kaye Gibbons, published the same year I graduated from high school, sure I was going to be a doctor.

I wrote about Kaye after meeting her in January (the title of this post will link you to that post, and yes I know it seems narcissistic to link to myself). She was in town to promote her sequel to Ellen Foster, and one of the questions asked of her at the reading was, "What took you so long?"

Her answer was so fantastically honest, basically, "I didn't think of it until about a year ago." No literary palaver about the need to let an idea germinate until it is ready to be born or how she needed to more fully understand who Ellen would become before she could continue her story. Nope, she just hadn't thought about writing a sequel for that many years, and once she did, she sat right down and wrote it.

It is an exquisite book. I'm trying to think of what I was reading in 1987, and I regret that it was not this. But then, as a 17-year-old graduating from high school, I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to appreciate the book's brilliance, the simple style that seems easy but is unfathomably hard.

This book earned a special citation by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation, which makes perfect sense. Kaye is not an estrogenated Hemingway, but her writing in this book follows in that tradition of deceptively simple-sounding prose, each sentence a strand woven into an intricate pattern of a novel.

Twice within two pages, two sentences stopped me dead in my tracks, so perfect I just had to stop reading to marvel. It is not possible to marvel while continuing to read, not if the subject of the marveling is to be given its due.

So now I have the sequel at the ready. It is snowing and gray and the perfect day to crawl back under the covers and further marvel.

She inspires me. Inspiration can be hard to find.

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