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Friday, August 4, 2017

Score! (Thanks To Assist)

How often do you have trouble arriving at a firm opinion of a book you've finished weeks ago? I'm not referring to a book you're still processing long after you completed it nor am I asking about one that left you indifferent - that qualifies as an opinion.

Although this may have happened to me before I began using a book journal in 2010 to record my views - and I'm just not remembering - because of that journal, I can say for certain that "The Little Red Chairs" (2015), by Edna O'Brien, was, for several weeks, the first book earning an undecided verdict from me in over seven years. Consequently, I was grateful it was the book a good friend had suggested we read for our book club of two. I was confident my struggle arriving at a firm opinion would end after our always rich conversations. And that discerning reader/friend did not let me down.

Now I knew from the start of "The Little Red Chairs" that I was in skilled hands; the prose is nearly flawless. And O'Brien's finishing sentence - containing the irreplaceable adjective "savage" - rivals the iconic final words of novels as timeless as "The Great Gatsby" - "You would not believe how many words there are for home and what savage music there can be wrung from it."

Yet, in between the eerily foreshadowing epigraphs O'Brien chose and her assured start - when a charismatic stranger arrives in an innocent and sleepy hamlet in the Irish countryside- and her perfect final sentence, I couldn't make up my mind. How well did the two dream sequences - one near the start that revealed the stranger's vile past and the second near the end (no details - spoiler) - work as a literary device? How about the toggling between first and third person narration? What did the chapter entitled "Penge" - also near the end - contribute to the narrative? Is adding to the narrative a "must"? With respect to books - and music and film for that matter - I'm no wuss, opinions-wise. But in this unique case, much like a soccer or hockey forward, I clearly needed an able assist. This ever happen to you? Who do you have in the wings when you need such an assist?

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