Thursday, May 20, 2010

THIS WEEK WE ARE READING...the sublimely surreal

When I went to the library this week, I grabbed two books I've been meaning to read for some time: Neil Gaiman's Newbery-winning THE GRAVEYARD BOOK (2008) and Francesca Lisa Block's 1989 debut WEETZIE BAT. Though at first they seemed an odd pairing, I discovered that (beyond both being terrific, interesting reads) the books made sense together on many levels.

Not going to overdo the synopses here (note: these aren't exactly spoilers but skip this paragraph if you don't want any hints about endings) but, in short, WEETZIE BAT is the story of a young woman who lives with her gay best friend, has a child out of wedlock, confronts AIDS and death, and winds up finding happiness in a mythic 1980s Los Angeles. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK follows Nobody Owens ("Bod") who, as a toddler, escapes being murdered with the rest of his family by wandering into a graveyard where he is raised and protected by the dead until reaching young adulthood and eagerly stepping out into the world to live his life. Neither novel shies away from challenging subject matter but instead integrates it into sublimely surreal yet urgently compelling worlds filled with death and life, grief and joy.

Names and naming are important in both novels. Gaiman's protagonist, "Nobody" is also "Bod"--the only living, embodied denizen of his graveyard home. Bod's many dead friends are identified by both name and headstone inscription (this is actually quite amusing at times) which both date and characterize them. Bod's enemy is "the man Jack." In Block's imagistic tale, Weetzie's partner is known only as "My Secret Agent Lover Man" while her own name is unique, inexplicable, a sound more than a word. Her best friend's boyfriend is a "duck" (cute guy) named Duck. One child is lovingly, tolerantly known as "Witch Baby."

Both Gaiman and Block delight in wordplay and recognize the power and importance of character names and chapter titles. Both are keenly aware of the ways prosaic structure (and, in Gaiman's case you've also got to note the elegant, organic interweaving of illustration into the book's format and design) can drive a story forward. Both create complete, absorbing yet fantastical worlds into which the reader is immersed. And both, in the end, find beauty in wounds that can't be healed and, be it Tinsel Town or a last resting place, hope in places that will never be perfect.

Read these two books as a study in structure and style and to see two master wordsmith's at work.

7 comments:

Faith Pray said...

Thanks for the intriguing book recommendations. So fun to have new ones for my to-read list.

Jen said...

Thanks for the reviews! I was looking for a few more books to pick up this weekend... okay maybe not but they are still good enough to add to the list!

Lisa_Gibson said...

The Graveyard has been on my tbr list for awhile. I'll have to add Weetzie Bat. Thanks for the recommendations.

Laura Marcella said...

The Graveyard Book has been on my to-read list forever! It's never at the library when I go. Must be a popular book! Thanks for the reviews!

MollyMom103 said...

Truth.

Dawn Simon said...

I still haven't hit THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, but it's on my TBR list. I look forward to reading it! Soon! Great post, as always.

Theresa Milstein said...

I picked up The Graveyard Book in Borders the other day, but put it back because I forgot my gift card. Now I have to go back!