Writing review: The Writing Circle

I’ve read a lot of novels in the past fifteen months, since discovering Aldiko and the resources of my local public library. Not that I didn’t read prior to this period, but with my smartphone and ebooks I’m now able to read not only in bed, but in the bus, in the bathroom, in dentist’s waiting room, pretty much any time I’m alone or want to be. I’d estimate I’ve read some fifty novels or so over this time; I am a speed reader, and the lighter the fare, the faster I’ll read. I can easily finish a novel in three days without forgoing many usual daily activities, though I’ll force myself to slow down for denser reading.

I’d read more, but it’s always a challenge for me to find things interesting to read. My partner will take a dozen books from the library, start them, then only finish a few. I’ve done that too, but it’s not my preferred approach. Once I start reading, I get committed to completing.

So, I look for referrals to lead me to good readings, and through one referral I ended up with a book called “The Writing Circle“, by Corinne Demas. This book is a mystery, at least to me; a mystery why someone wrote it, why some company published it, why it got on someone’s referral list. And it’s primarily because of those mysteries that I’m still trying to finish reading it.

It’s not a bad novel; it’s not poorly written or fraught with clichés or cardboard characters. At the moment I’m not finished, but it appears to be some form of “women’s” fiction; a lot of time is spent inside various character’s heads talking about their lives and how they feel about situations as they occur. I don’t say this disparagingly, only to point out what I suspect is the reason that the author wrote the novel in the first place.

There are a number of things that irk me as I read, the first of which that I noticed was the writing style. I labeled it “utilitarian”. The writing is free of obvious grammatical or spelling errors, but the sentences are plain and not pretty.

There was a circle of brown liquid in the bottom of Nancy’s mug now, but it was cold. She spun the mug around once, so the white stars blurred on the blue ceramic background, then she pushed the mug to the back of her desk. She had to get to work now. She turned to the articles in front of her. She began reading though the stack, marking useful paragraphs …

There are lots of paragraphs like this. It’s the writer’s chosen writing style.

Then, there are the moments when I feel seams, the joins between two revisions, the moments in the writing where the writer or editor thought; okay, need some description here, and so they tag on a sentence or phrase.

She set her mug on her desk and settled into her chair. She started flipping through the articles awaiting her from The Journal of the American Medical Association and The New England Journal of Medicine, the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the British Medical Journal. She nudged them to the side and looked out her window — the goldenrod at the edge of the mowed field, the just oranging maples, the brown river, low after the summer.

The first section with the coffee mug shows elements of the same sewing-style of writing; adding details for the purpose of adding detail.

And there are some moments of some degree of insight. After sex with another woman, a character returns to the city to his girlfriend and she convinces him to stay the night with her. She falls asleep, but,

His arm, pinned under Kim’s body, ached, but he felt obligated to keep it there.

There are some boner moments too. Here a father is trying to instill confidence in his teen-aged son:

“Even a moron can know what they’re doing in hockey,” said Paul.

Jerry looked at Paul over the top of his reading glasses. “Maybe so, but let me tell you, not everyone can stay upright on those tricky skates.”

Say what? Tricky skates? That not everyone can stay up on? No only is that a  bizarre wording to use, but for the father of someone who plays hockey and who normally picks up his son after practices and presumably watches some hockey games and practices, to compliment him on his ability to stand up on skates is like complimenting a basketball player on being able to dribble. Now maybe the author is being subtle and suggesting that the father is inattentive in spite of the fact that he is attentive about picking up his son, but if that’s the case, we could use a little support for that image. I read this as another construction seam; the author wants the father to say something supportive, but comes up with a line that indicates a lack of understanding about hockey and skating.

With a little research I find a discussion forum and a thread with the author, with a question from a reader:

I was also slightly uncomfortable, at first, with some of the more intimate details. This might or might not be due to my age. I simply don’t know. But I have to admit that those details are believable; I just don’t like the images they evoke. For instance: on page 93 we get the image of “hair unwashed.” Why not just “hair unkempt?”

Maybe I should take this as an indication of the intended readers of this novel. If you’ve got readers who find these details believable but are uncomfortable with the term “hair unwashed”, then maybe the writing style is appropriate and the nonsense aspect of “tricky skates” irrelevant.

Overall I find the characters, detail, and writing too artificial, too clunky, not pleasantly constructed, and too full of obvious seams and add-ons to be able to connect with the stories.

I think I’ve just convinced myself to not finish reading.

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