|Farrar, Straus and Giroux |
(September 4, 2012)
Before I get started, here's the deal: I'm not a a reviewer. I occasionally write about books that I find especially worth thinking about, but I'm not a reviewer. I bought this book because I wanted to read it. This book interested me, and here are a few reasons why...
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Elizabeth Fama cares about language. She cares about the process of creativity. And she cares about both of those things ferociously. I know this because I've read her thoughts on "wedding cake and Twinkie" prose. *
Monstrous Beauty does qualify as wedding cake; there are many layers—tiers of the past, present, and future. Each is rich, but the past especially dark, dense, and delicious. The book begins in 1522—1522!—with a prologue that does what a prologue ought to do, serve as a fractal seed in the imagination. It isn't just a matter of getting the reader up to speed with the plot, it is a matter of character, setting, and emotional momentum. And, perhaps most important of all, it is a matter of precision in language, the selection of words that evoke particularity.
It is that sort of precision, the precision of a naturalist determined to convey the unique and complex, that illuminates this book. These are words the author chose with care. As a reader, I appreciate that. It is that sort of care that creates a submersive reading experience for me: Story and style are all entwined, of the same substance, and nothing breaks the spell.
* I can tell you that after I read that I came away thinking that what I write is neither wedding cake nor Twinkie. My books are like desperate muffins—small and lacking in essential ingredients. But I sure don't aspire to write a Twinkie—and I don't care to read Twinkies, either.