Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Drowning Ruth - a novel

I know this is not my normal book review day, but I just finished this book today and wanted to share some things about it, both from a reader's standpoint and a writer's.

First of all, Drowning Ruth, was an amazing story. It was published in 2000 and I am sorry that I didn't read it when it first came out.

It was hard to like the central character at first, and she only became truly endearing at the very end, but there was the mystery of what happened in the past that shaped her that kept me engaged in the story.


Writers are advised to make their central characters likeable so the reader can connect. Who wants to connect to someone who lies, is harsh and manipulative, and is very demanding? If we decide to go against this advice, we'd better make sure we can do it well. Christina Schwarz does it well. (Last week, Kathryn Craft wrote a two-part series on The Blood Red Pencil blog about unlikeable central characters.)

As a reader, I like books with multiple layers to the story and several strong characters who are tied together by plot elements. This novel has Ruth, Amanda, Mathilda, Carl, Clemment, and Arthur who all have a stake in each other and a connection that propels the story. They are all deeply affected by the secret that Amanda, Mandy, has kept for many years, and it is that secret that changes all their lives.

This is all beautifully written from various points of view, but all the threads are woven together in a smooth and seamless story.

Point of view (POV) is another hotly debated issue for writers. In genre and category fiction with narrow parameters, writers are told to stick to one or two points of view, and never switch POV in the middle of a scene. Mainstream and literary novels are not bound by those constraints, but if the POV changes are not handled well, they can still be jarring. Again, it takes a deft hand at the pen to write a book like Drowning Ruth and not jar the reader out of the story by awkward scene changes or POV changes.

I'm not sure my hand is quite as deft as Christina Schwarz's, but I do like to change the point of view in scenes. Because my books are categorized as mystery, sometimes my editor questions the fact that I will switch POV like that, and sometimes she is right and it is too abrupt. Other places in the story it just feels right to me so I campaign to keep them in. So far, I have not had a reader complain.

What about you? Do you like to read stores with multiple points of view and many layers to the plot? Is that what you write?

3 comments:

Carol Kilgore said...

I like to read multiple point of view novels, but I like for the change to be distinct - as in either a section or chapter break. I love layered plots, as long as they're not so complex I need a map to follow to stay on track.

Helen Ginger said...

In what I'm writing now, I have two POVs, but one is dominant. I don't mind more than one POV, but I want them to separate and not confusing.

Maryann Miller said...

The POV breaks in Drowning Ruth were designated by the character's name as a scene heading. That made it a distinct change so I don't think anyone would get confused.