Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Keeping Watch" by Laurie R. King

I've been trying to write this blog post for about three days now, but I can never seem to find quite the words I'm looking for. So I guess I'll just go with the words that come to me without requiring a hunting expedition.

Once in a while I read a book that changes me. Many books delight me, some inspire me, and others teach me. But every now and then I read a book that changes me in some way. Maybe it changes my understanding of war and killing, the way On Killing by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman did. It could end my distrust of biographies of famous people I love, the way John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth by Michael Munn did. Or it could change my attitude toward the usefulness of descriptions, the way my first Raymond Chandler novel did (that was The Big Sleep, if you're interested).

Laurie R. King's book Keeping Watch changed me. It's one of the first modern adult novels set in the present to suck me in so deeply that I don't want to leave the book's world even when I should be sleeping or eating or showering. Older books can do that for me, and the Harry Potter books as well, but most modern novels for adults somehow keep me at a distance. Either the characters are too self-aware and self-critical for me to really like them or the plot is too conscious of being clever, or the bad guys have too many nice streaks for me to hate them. Something always goes slightly awry and keeps me from disappearing into the book. Even the predecessor to this book, Folly, did not pull me in completely. It was a fascinating book with a great character, but I kept guessing what would happen next. Even though I was wrong half the time, the fact that the story felt guessable kept me from being entranced.

But Keeping Watch never felt guessable. I couldn't imagine what each new page would bring, but I couldn't wait to find out. Even though the subjects aren't pleasant -- child abuse, soldiering during the Vietnam Conflict, and the mental disturbances that can result from both -- the characters felt so very real that I simply needed to find out how they would deal with whatever happened next.

And I've been forced to change my mind about the quality of modern fiction set in the modern world. It doesn't have to be bleak, post-modernist, self-absorbed, or self-conscious. This just might mean I'll have to read more modern books and see if there are other good ones out there.

(Originally posted on Inscriptions on Apr. 21, 2007.)

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