Moreover, there are promotions all over social media like Facebook promising writers “Foolproof ways to keep your readers in suspense,” “. . . establish that all-too vital disturbance and sustain it,” and so forth. It’s as if, given the competition, novelists have to make certain that the graphics on the cover lure buyers to turn immediately to the first page. If that opening doesn’t do the trick, or once they get the book home and reach for it on their nightstand and settle in, the narrative doesn’t keep them up at night, the jig is up, the game is over.
As a case in point, Big Sky, best-seller Kate Atkinson’s new venture featuring her popular British detective Jackson Brodie has apparently let her readers down. Admittedly, I myself was looking forward to Brodie’s latest foray and willing to forgive Atkinson’s usual flaws, but it seems her loyal readers weren’t able to put up with a plot that’s slow to emerge, lack of mystery or suspense until late in the narrative, plodding pace, Brodie’s pondering over his relationships, ambivalence over his chosen profession, random thoughts , parenthetical stream of consciousness, memories, plus a barrage of characters and loose threads.
In other words, Atkinson seems to have deprived her lead character with any sense of drive and thereby kept her faithful fans from wanting to turn the page. And, as a reader, the same thing has happened to me. New books pile up on my nightstand because I have no compulsion to go on. I seem to have an abiding need to relate to the leading character’s plight, inner thoughts and, at the same time, be drawn in to the setting and the life.
For what it’s worth, this need has spilled over into my own works in progress. For what it’s worth, here’s a revision I made when I sensed my lead character was running all over the place just for the sake of plot. In this brief passage, I stopped and asked myself, Why couldn’t Josh be driven, take a moment to ponder, and take another moment to engage with the little girl next door as part of the natural flow of circumstances?
But all this equivocating was a complete waste of time. He’d changed his name, written countless profiles for the paper attempting to get lost in other people’s lives and, despite all that, still wound up under the gun.
Taking a time out, he drifted over to the picket fence and tried to get Amanda to hold still for a moment in order to get her to look out for things while he was gone. As usual, however, she was too frisky to engage in what passes for a normal conversation. She simply had to demonstrate new variations on her dance solo the choreographer gave her which now included twirls, high kicks and jazz movements she called step-ball-change.
“Isn’t that cool?” she asked, returning to the fence. “Dance lady added it ‘cause she thought I could handle it and it might be a show stopper. How about that?”
“Pretty nifty, kid. Pretty soon all you’ll need is an agent.”
“You think so? Hey, I know what that is. Mom told me if I keep it up, she might take me to auditions for that musical Annie in Asheville. Now wouldn’t that be something?”
“Sure would,” said Josh, realizing for the umpteenth time the amazing difference between himself and Amanda when he was the same age. “Listen, I’m going to be out of town for the next couple of weeks and I’d like to hire you to keep an eye out. Make sure of things like checking for poison oak crawling up the trellis by the back porch taking over the morning glory. There are sprays and stuff in the tool shed.”
“That’s what that weird cousin said. I mean about looking high and low for you. So’s you could help out ‘cause something came up back north and you’re needed.”
“That’s right,” said Josh as the anxiety kicked in again. “Something pressing came up.” He tried to keep his response easygoing, brushing off anything worrisome. As if this was just a chat between a harmless nice-guy with a perky little girl next door. A sweet bit of Americana, nestled in a quiet idyllic neighborhood, embraced by the Blue Ridge and the rosy hue of twilight afterglow.