Saturday, November 27, 2010

we can control how we ride

My food coma seems to have lifted, at least for the moment, so I finished Timothy Sanders' Orange Juice, a collection of very short stories that shamelessly begs to be judged by its cover (there is a cute kitten). It's a pretty good read, though - some of Sanders' work is "indie" to the point where it comes off as an annoying affectation (awkward dialogue pacing, repetition of characters' names, lots of brand/pop-culture references, etc.), but he is startlingly good at characterization. In fact, he makes it look really, really easy in "Cat Stuff," the third story included here; Jared's kleptomania, which is mentioned almost passingly but often enough to factor into how readers perceive him, totally works as an earned element of the character and doesn't seem like a random flailing attempt to rivet-gun a personality onto him. A fair amount of indie/alt-lit is guilty of the rivet-gun effect, so I'm glad Sanders avoided it.

I can learn from this. Again, Sanders (at his best) makes the tedious and frustrating process of developing characters and making them interact seem effortless. Steve Matanle talks about using chance during the creative process and just trying things, just to see what they do to one's characters and settings. His theory is that, when it's done well, it creates suspense by piquing the reader's curiosity and defying their predictions. I think Sanders pulls this off more often than not in Orange Juice.

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