. . . I hope to write another [novel] fairly soon.
It is bound to be a failure,
every book is a failure,
but I do know with some clarity
what kind of book I want to write.
- – - George Orwell
By titling my Whitney recap as I have, I don’t wish to suggest the five books in the General Category sucked. After all, the novel Orwell was planning to write was Nineteen Eighty-four, an enormous success by about every criteria I can imagine (outside cheerfulness—huge bust on the cheerfulness front). Rather, as I revisit the books I’ve read and reviewed, I want to think about what they suggest about us as a writing community in 2014. I’ll cover them in the order they are listed on the Whitney site which, coincidentally, is the same order I ranked them in.
Love Letters of the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist
I had a hard time deciding between Quist’s book and Dunster’s for the top spot, but ultimately, Love Letters is the sort of book that deserves to receive rewards. It takes risks and pulls them off; it does something we haven’t seen before; it’s beautiful at the sentence level and moving on the book level; it contains nuggets of wisdom and articulated reality that are quotable without distracting from the thrust of the story. Really, it’s a true work of art and one I will place in anyone’s hands without hesitation. I am still perturbed by the p-o-v switch near the end of the novel (though apparently I’m its only reader to even notice it), but that’s not enough to keep me from giving it my top placing.
Mile 21 by Sarah Dunster
Mile 21 is not not composed of sentences as lovely as seen in Love Letters (largely I think this is an issue of its first-person p-o-v), but it has an exquisite layering of metaphor, and although it’s overall structure seems happy-ending-centric, it manages to arrive at that ending without sacrificing the complexity and ambiguities inherent in each of its character’s arcs. The novel maintains an emotional honesty throughout and never glances away even when the pain is hard to take, and that makes the protagonist’s final redemption all the more powerful.
Road to Bountiful by Donald S. Smurthwaite
Bountiful loses its way in the middle, could have used a few more plot points, and stumbles a bit at the end, but even in its simplicity of tale and issues with consistency, it ultimately tells truths without mudding about too much in sentimentality and thus I consider it a success.
Ruby’s Secret by Heather B. Moore
This book has more potential than it successfully executed, but it does manage to pull off its cathartic ending and, sentence by sentence, the prose charms and keeps the story moving even through its flaws.
The House at Rose Creek by Jenny Proctor
More ambitious than Ruby’s Secret, I ultimately dropped Rose Creek to last because of its difficulties in managing its various plots and its need for tighter prose. Like Ruby’s Secret and Mile 21 (and, if you squint, the other two novels as well), Rose Creek has a traditionally shaped romance as one of its key elements. However, it couldn’t keep the romance plotline balanced against the other elements of the story, which is a large part of how it ultimately lost its way.
Sadly, the only other book I read this year which qualifies in this category is The Reluctant Blogger which I would not argue is clearly superior to any of the five books nominated and so, as far as I know, these are in fact the finest five “general” novels from LDS authors published in 2013. The first two I am happy to have among our top five. The other three contain elements I find pleasing (and I will happily give these authors’ work another shot) but aren’t quite strong enough to let me feel delighted in calling them the best we have to offer.
But again: I only read six qualifying novels and so I can’t comment on whether I find issue with what makes the final or with what we are writing.
What I do know is that the Whitneys are getting me to read outside my regular shelves and that has to be a good thing. Sometimes we compartmentalize ourselves as readers and as writers and darn it books want to be free. The more we read, the more writers that join our community of words-to-be-read, the more we approximate Zion. Even if this version of Zion is a zero-sum game that involves saying one book’s better than another.
But whatever. It’s a fallen world. Let’s enjoy what we have and celebrate together.
Best wishes to all, this LDStorymakers weekend!