To tell the truth, I haven’t read a real novel in awhile. Now, I’m not trying to discriminate by saying there are novels that are “real” or “fake” (terms that automatically carry the denotations of “good” and “bad” with them). Of course, all books have an author who wrote them, a publisher who published them, and an audience who received them. By “real” I mean a book that makes me think, feel, question, and analyze; one that forces me to think about my own writing and how it compares, differs, and falls short of the writing of the author. My definition of a good novel is constantly in flux, but it has evolved from emphasizing the importance of plot to the potential of writing style and technique. Growing up, I read a lot of novels from the Young Adult genre, and that is still mainly where I wander when I enter a library or bookstore. However, upon entering college (and even more so in my second year) I found that I needed to branch into adult fiction. I needed to break out of the mindset I had that I was still a teenager—a budding adult, but not quite there yet.
My preconceived notions made me think I would pick up a boring book of the Adult genre, or one with words and concepts I couldn’t wrap my mind around, or something that simply didn’t pertain or relate to me. My biggest mistake was in determining that all novels were theoretically the same in the way they were written and displayed to audiences, and therefore the only important differentiation between said novels was the subject matter (e.g. plot, characters, conflict, arc, etc.). This incorrect perception of adult novels was overturned by reading assignments in first-year college classes: Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson, and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, to name just a few. Reading The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier in Fiction Workshop I this semester has only reaffirmed my knowledge of how necessary it is to branch out of my comfortable novel genre zone.
Brockmeier’s novel’s plot is not extraordinary or mind-blowing. It centers around a girl named Celia, who has gone missing before the novel even starts. The audience never gets to see Celia in “real time,” just one of the little variances that makes this book so unconventional and wonderful in its twisting of common tropes. The “missing child” is a common trait used to elicit reactions from readers, and is undoubtedly overused; however, this novel encompasses more than just a clear plot with a clear trajectory. The thing I loved most about The Truth About Celia was the use of time, metafiction, nonlinear plotlines, and a style that almost seems to cross into stream-of-consciousness at times. The fact that Brockmeier includes a copious amount of reflection is not surprising, as the loss of something often results in reliving moments that could’ve gone differently. Celia’s father being an author only opens another door for Brockmeier to explore, and he intersperses the novel with excerpts from the father’s work in progress fiction pieces, all of which can somehow relate to occurrences in the main storyline. As I said, the plot of the novel is not necessarily revolutionary, and neither are the characters; however, what really struck me was the way Brockmeier played with style and manipulated it to turn it into a sort of “fun house” where the reader doesn’t know what the next page will say, or what twist in expectation the author will implement. Although I have read many, many great YA novels, the freedom and sophistication in style of good Adult novels is a something I have not found in YA fiction. Perhaps it’s because YA authors cannot be as experimental with their writing due to their audience, or maybe the best examples of unusually-styled writing in the genre are pushed to the side in favor of novels such as The Hunger Games or Divergent; however, my biggest suggestion for writers—or even people who just love to read—is to read as much as possible, from as many different genres, authors, styles, times, and subjects as possible.
By Haleema Smith