Friday, November 7, 2014

Exceptional Writing - two experiences that moved me - The Storied life of AJ Fikry and St. Vincent.

As a writer I keep my confidence up by constantly telling myself that I am one heck of a wordsmith. Oh I know of Earnest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald but I can always get around them by saying 'they'd have a hard time getting published today' or other such bullcrap. Then along comes a phrase or sentence or paragraph or even a whole page written so true that I despair of my skills. I have been lately subjected to not one but two examples of true to the bone fine writing. One was a novel and the other a movie.

First, the novel The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.

This a love song to books and fine writing and how they move and change us, how they ground us in a truer reality that maybe we would have missed if we had never plumbed their depths. AJ owns a small bookstore (Island Books) on Alice Island, a small community in New England. He is a recent widower, with an acid tongue and a clever mind, who is slowly drinking himself to death. After a disastrous turn of events, he is left with a gift in the form of a baby abandoned in his store. This child will change not only his life, as all children will, but will also give him a new appreciation of practically every facet of his world - his customers, children's literature, his neighbors, his store.

It is a tale about ordinary people living ordinary lives and through extraordinary writing we are dropped down into these lives, warts and all. There is a mystery but by the time it is revealed we hope, for AJ's sake, it remains a secret. On every page of this exquisite gem, I found myself returning to reread a sentence here or a thought there. Zevin crafted this small book with no shortcuts, no conventions, just honest writing done in a masterful way. 

I'm going to stop here before I give too much away, but I will end with the greatest compliment I can give any bit of writing. I wish I hadn't read The Storied Life of AJ Fikry so I could be reading it now. I might anyway.

Second, the movie St Vincent has many similarities to Fikry. It's main character, played by Bill Murray, is impatient, mean sometimes, drinks too much, seems to be self-destructive, and wouldn't be someone you would seek out for companionship. He lives next door to a divorced mom with a pre-teen boy. Through a series of misfortunes, the boy and the man are thrown together and thus a relationship is formed. 

What I liked about the piece is once again the writing. In St. Vincent we are not given any shortcuts. Even clear to the end, the man makes terrible decisions that are indefensible. And yet, as I listen to the words the writer placed in the mouths of his characters I shake my head at the honesty and the beauty of the words. Through exceptional writing a character who otherwise would be a drag to watch is elevated to heroic status, in fact that of a saint.

There you have it. Obviously I am recommending both works of art and would love your take on either even if you disagree.

Good day to all.

1 comment:

  1. If you didn't care for either of these, I would love to hear your reasons.