Monday, May 19, 2008

The Dive From Clausen's Pier

I'm currently reading Ann Packer's second novel, Songs Without Words. Before I post about this book though, I thought I should post about her debut novel, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and which had me anxiously awaiting her next novel. Here is the review from Publisher's Weekly:

Packer's engrossing debut novel begins without ostentation. On Memorial Day, Carrie Bell and her fiance, Mike Mayer, drive out to Clausen's Pier for their annual ritual, a picnic with their friends, a trip they make the way a middle-aged couple might, in grudging silence. Before their resentments can be aired, Mike dives into too shallow water, suffering injuries that change their lives. If Mike survives, he will survive as a quadriplegic, and Carrie faces unexpected responsibilities. Ultimately, Carrie does what is both understandable and unthinkable. She leaves her hometown of Madison, Wis., and shows up on the doorstep of a friend in New York City. There she discovers a different world, different friends and a different self. The hovering question what will Carrie do? Abandon Mike or return to him? generates genuine suspense. Packer portrays her characters both New Yorkers and Madisonites deftly, and her scenes unfold with uncommon clarity. But if Packer has a keen eye, she has an even keener ear. The dialogue is usually witty; more important, it is always surprising, as if the characters were actually thinking one of the reasons they become as familiar to the reader as childhood friends. The recipient of several awards, Packer is also the author of Mendocino and Other Stories. Clearly, she has honed her skills writing short fiction. What is unexpected is the assurance she brings to a larger canvas. In quiet but beautiful prose, Packer tells a complex and subtly constructed story of friendship, love and the hold the past has on the present. This is the sort of book one reads dying to know what happens to the characters, but loves for its wisdom: it sees the world with more clarity than you do.

Can you imagine the dilemma? She's feeling restless in her relationship and thinking about leaving and then - wham - he's in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. I think it's very brave of her to move on without him. So many people had to think she was hugely selfish for making that move, but seriously, if she stayed with him, that could've meant a lifetime of unhappiness. It's a wonderful story - not a necessarily happy one - and it's written well and studies interesting issues.

Fun Fact:
It took Packer 10 years to complete this novel, and it's partly autobiographical, for her father suffered a paralyzing stroke when she was young.

1 comment:

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