Saturday, August 24, 2013

Something about Sweet William

A review of Sweet William by Ned Johnson....Thank you!

"There are many "laws" of writing style. Among the few that stand out as preeminent are, "Write what you know about," and "You can't write about what you don't see in your mind." In her novella Sweet William, Martie Odell Ingebretsen violates the first and proves the latter, both with brilliance. Those are two of several keys to her unique and powerful style.

As to the first law, the one that she violates, all she does is prove that a vivid and attentive imagination is equal to, or better than, direct experience. Martie herself has never been homeless. Yet she has insight into the soul of the experience that some who have lived it lack. She displays this mainly through details: a refusal to use a shopping cart, because of what it symbolizes; having a "safe place" to store possessions when you're not around; tips and tricks about professional dumpster diving. Her insight into the nature of the lifestyle is revealed in countless little details that put the reader right there with the character--alive and well.

She applies the same technique to other situations, ones with which she is, at least to some degree, more personally familiar. But it all cases, it is her ability to first envision, then to describe a scene or a feeling or a sensation. And describe it she does. Sumptuously.

Which brings up another of her best attributes: her style of delivery. Martie has a unique talent for putting words together that are under most circumstances strange bedfellows, to say the least. Yet she yokes them together for her own purposes, and they find ways of making wonderful sense together. Besides being a delight to stumble upon in the course of reading, these little gems also have the side effect of focusing the reader's attention quite unconsciously and spontaneously. It is a sly, beneficial, and quite effective knack.

The next most powerful asset she brings to the party is her compassion. That, along with her insight into the inner workings of her characters (and by extension, humanity), are potent storytelling tools.

She understands the thoughts and feelings that form the fabric of our experience, and she knows where they come from. This provides her with the ability to present the thoughts, feelings, actions, and development of her characters sensibly and precisely. They don't always do what you expect them to, but they always do something that they would do. Not every author can say that with a straight face.

Her story is one that spans the gamut of human experience, from the depths of tragedy to the apex of elation, with many stops along the way. She accomplishes this through the use of the techniques above, along with her choice of characters, a credible and rewarding storyline, and a finish you can (happily) live with.

For a first novella--it is an achievement to be proud of. I certainly would be if I had written it. No doubt I have plenty of company in that respect."

You might ask how I know about the things in Williams life as Ned did in the above review.  Yes,  I  experienced the loss and the devastation that William did when my daughter died at 8 years.   William lost a child and wife...everything he held dear was gone in a blink.  I understood the horror and the guilt and I knew the anger that needed to explode at something or someone.  The man with the mean eyes was that someone in the story.  Read Sweet William and you will ask as William does, is there any blame?  

Have I ever been homeless....No.  At least not in the sense that William was homeless.  I moved from the home I had lived in for 30 years and spent 4 months in a motel before finding another home.  


Around the corner and down the block
heavy with memory, I walk on sidewalks
torn by cracks and littered with the sunshine
of the ache in the gate that was home.

Barefooted across the paved heat of the streets
where the leaves of autumn still fall and call,
all my lost thoughts flood the gutters and tombs
as the birds and I thrum with the clock.
A white linen blouse on a January day
writes its song on the shoulders of trees,
then stays like the strings of a familiar love,
lost in the culverts unseen but by me.

The smile of the child at the door I can't block
from the threshold that used to be mine;
I hope that he feels all the goodness I've known
for the place called my home now is his.

In every experience there can be learning and growth and also a story that can be told.  Is the story fiction or truth?  Maybe it is both.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a poem about place and Home. It has great feeling in it from the heart and good images to carry it along.