Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Brian's Celebrate Reading Pick: KIT'S WILDERNESS by David Almond

Today, we welcome Brian as our Celebrate Reading Guest Blogger.

About the Guest Blogger: Brian has just finished his MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis on fiction. During the day, he work in book publicity, writing press materials and promoting his authors.


You spend three years on the business end of MFA writing classes, an onslaught of lessons on style, technique and craft. Character development, theme, pacing, atmosphere, concrete detail, significant detail, psychological distance, temporal distance... All this and you choke on a critical mass of Jamaica Kincaid and Sherman Alexie and Jonathan Lethem and John Gardner and Allan Gurganus, a steady diet that threatens both to nourish and engulf. Add to this your efforts to distill all of this knowledge, now blendering around your brain with gale-force power, into your own writing: mimicking methods but assimilating them as your own, nodding your head at writing that has moved you while trying to assert your own voice, your own sesquipedalian presence. The day comes when you graduate with the nagging realization that you have no recollection of what happened those three years you eschewed friends and family and jettisoned reason in favor of creating a 350 page doorstop, also known as your thesis novel.

And then, you pick up KIT'S WILDERNESS by David Almond. A thin book with short paragraphs, what you mistake for a respite from all of the above. But you're wrong. This is the book that hits you hardest than all the rest. This is the book that blows everything else away. Because while you spent your time as Dr. Frankenstein, cobbling together that which you wish to give life, this book is Igor, throwing the massive toggle switch that pummels your hastily-stitched construct with fifty million volts of power.

KIT'S WILDERNESS bridges synapses and connects the dots and parts clouds to reveal a heavenly choir singing in glorious soprano, "The moron finally gets it!" You understand what Professor Whatsis meant when she said, "Never waste a single word." Almond doesn't. Every syllable, every sigil colludes and collides to propel the story forward. You're finally thunderstruck by Professor Whosit's lecture on significant detail as you watch Almond throw words to a page with a wrestler's determination, saying to himself, "You are all my bitches now!," and marshalling them to tie everything—from what the main character is studying in school to ancient family history to an off-hand remark by a tertiary character—into the novel's central themes. Everything sits on the page to serve the novel. No exceptions. Professor Whosit's mantra—There are no accidents in writing—which had long since banished itself to the cacophony of lectures in the outer reaches of the brain now tattoos itself indelibly on the back of your eyelids. Now removed from the maelstrom of learning, you can actually begin to appreciate, recognize the lessons in action, and you can indulge in something rare and wonderful: awe.

And you think to yourself: should I really be changed by a book at 37? Isn't this supposed to happen earlier? Aren't most people forever altered by a text at a young age, be it the scruffy-haired rebel with a dog-eared copy of Salinger in his hip pocket or the bright faced, pony-tailed girl writing her first short story very neatly between thick blue lines after setting down her copy of Paddington? Other books have surely changed your life. But maybe the best ones are when you realize it. When you acknowledge it. When there's still time to let it mean something.

9 comments:

Bernita said...

Wow!
Covers it sufficiently.

JES said...

Nice review! Haven't read it myself but now am intrigued (which is becoming a familiar sensation during this Celebrate Reading Extravaganza). The Amazon "search inside" feature give a good sense of Almond's language -- I see what you mean.

Would love to know what Professors Whatsit and Whoosit make of the book! Any idea???

Brian said...

The professors, as brilliant and wonderful as they are, tend to shy away from anything considered "YA." So I doubt they're familiar with the book. But I've been championing it as a text book for the most technically perfect novel I've ever read. Maybe they'll give it a shot someday.

JES said...

"Technically perfect": interesting idea, worthy of a side discussion of its own someday, maybe...

Haven't read it for a long time, but I always have felt that way about John le Carre's A Perfect Spy. Which is nothing at all like Kit's Wilderness, I'm pretty sure, including in the specific TYPE of "technical perfection."

Like I said, I don't want to drag the thread off-topic. But it's an interesting subject to me.

Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely a rave review. I'll have to look for this one.

Linda said...

Never heard of KIT'S WILDERNESS but you hooked me. Wanna write my query letter for me? On my wish list now... great post. Peace, Linda

Anonymous said...

A while ago I read Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'. It totally wrecked me for weeks. Everything I tried to read for ages seemed such trite drivel. I have recovered. Just. I have discovered Anne Lamott via 'Bird by Bird'.

Precie said...

Excellent. Another addition to my Amazon list.

THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE did something like that to me. I didn't think I could be surprised by literature anymore, but (even though it wasn't technically perfect) it stayed with me much longer than most fiction does these days and it broke open my thoughts on "good fiction."

moonrat said...

Me too, Precie. Although I'm pretty sure we've talked about that before.