Dive in, or the post will grow and grow like an unwanted giant in a half-baked fantasy story, I tell myself.
You could say that Liza’s IG post mentioning po-mo pink from Connie Willis’ Bellwether was a fateful sign that made me check in with the unwanted giant after several months of hiding him in the draft box. I was in the middle of Bellwether when Liza posted about po-mo pink, so I decided I’d call it fate and here we are…
So how did Connie Willis save my life? First, by writing with a sense of humor, though not always writing books that could be called funny. Secondly, by doing research, enjoying the process, and infusing her books with that enjoyment. And that’s easier said than done. There’s something very classic about that approach to storytelling but it’s always been a challenge for storytellers. How do you turn your reader into a fellow victim of folie a deux?… Connie Willis knows how.
Last winter I couldn’t help feeling that parts of reality were dissolving. The whole concept of people researching something to test how the thing in question held up to scrutiny… well, it felt like that was under intense questioning (but not scrutiny) all of a sudden. You’d turn on the news and hear a person talking very loudly about how, in their opinion, feelings are more important than facts… Nothing new in the world, you might say. But the volume got suddenly cranked up to 11 and my head hurt.
Willis’ writing brings you the comfort of familiar plot ideas. We start out with time-travelers stumbling into trouble in the past, well-worn details of near-death experiences that we’ve all read somewhere, telepathy a lot like what you’ve seen on Star Trek… and then the narrator takes you by the hand and you land somewhere completely new. None of those familiar popular ideas hold. “Isn’t it silly how many things we take for granted? Isn’t it silly how solid some of our baseless convictions become?”, asks the narrator and the cogs in your brain box start turning. And you’re on an adventure. Scary or funny, you’re not going into it alone, and that, I think, is a wonderful quality of Connie Willis’ prose.
I first heard of To Say Nothing of the Dog years ago but it kept being that book you want to read but somehow don’t get to it. Years passed, Willis published several other books, and finally last year, Cross Talk. And I listened to this interview and knew that I needed to get my hands on it immediately.
After Cross Talk I read Passage, which was haunting but still had that comforting aspect of having someone think through the dilemmas — and the fears — it threw your way with you, allowing you to both be scared and trust you’ll make it through to the last page. I don’t know about you, but it’s something I cherish in scary novels. Maybe because so few of them attempt it.
Willis, I imagine, would have some smart and sarcastic things to say about my claim that “fate” was at work when Liza’s mention of Bellwether coincided with my reading of it. And I hope she puts it in a novel. I’ll definitely pick it up.
Right now I’m reading To Say Nothing of the Dog. And there’s Doomsday Book waiting on my nightstand.
What are you reading?