13 July 2007

Once More Into the Wild

Tomorrow at 3:30 Sarah Beth Durst will read at the Worcester Barnes & Noble, so this posting about her book, Into the Wild (previously highlighted back here), is more timely than I'd planned.

Both that novel and Diana Wynne Jones's The Game (discussed this week) take their heroines into supernatural landscapes where they witness, and are caught up in, the endless playing out of traditional stories. In Into the Wild those tales are Europe's fairy tales. In The Game they're Greek myths.

In both cases, the books highlight the beauty and the cruelty of those stories, and their implacable, cyclic unstoppability. Jones doesn't delve into the mechanics of her "mythosphere," and her characters defeat its governor quickly, without much planning. Durst's story, on the other hand, is all about trying to figure out the workings of the Wild and bringing it under control, which means Durst spends more time explaining just how those stories play out over and over again.

Does the difference reflect British versus American sensibilities? The acceptance of age versus the eagerness of youth? Or just the two authors' visions? These parallel tales were in the works at the same time, so there's no direct inspiration, just two storytellers exploring similar ideas.

Two of Durst's choices in Into the Wild struck me as particularly bold. Her second chapter and later passages of the book shift the point of view from the young heroine, Julie, to hairdresser Zel. What makes this so bold is that Zel is Julie's mother. Yes, a book for young teen girls asking them almost immediately to sympathize with the heroine's mother. Not that Zel's a typical mother, but still.

The second bold choice involves the character who lets the Wild loose in underhanded fashion, thus endangering our heroine, her mother, and all of central Massachusetts. This fact isn't deeply hidden, it doesn't drive the plot or the heroine's emotional journey, so it's only a small ***spoiler*** that I feel comfortable highlighting.

That character is the town's librarian. She wants the Wild to spin more traditional tales for the world, and her library. How's that for a gutsy move by a first-time author? Make the closest thing your novel has to a villain someone from your most important constituency!


Erin said...

I really enjoyed this post of yours...I loved 'Into the Wild'.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, I recall that you blogged about Into the Wild before I even got a copy—and I got an advance copy!