Saturday, March 24, 2012
Have you heard of Susanna Daniel's debut novel Stiltsville? I saw a blurb about it in Poet's & Writer's magazine a few months back. I don't remember, now, what the blurb said, but it must've been enticing enough that I decided to take a chance. (For the record, I find it irritating and really disappointing when I ready myself to begin a new novel and discover that I don't like it, whether it's the style or the plot or a combination of the two. Such is the case with Annie Prioulx's The Shipping News, which I'm trying to get through... a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning novel for crying out loud and I'm utterly distracted by the fact that the majority of the prose is written in fragments!)
No such distractions or complaints about Stiltsville, though. Admittedly, I was a little skeptical when I saw that the opening chapter was titled "1969." Why, you ask? I have this thing about history, about things that are set in the past. I simply don't care; I don't want to rehash something that's already been, that's already taken place. I'm the same way with seeing the same movie twice or re-reading a book: I won't do it. Silly? Probably. Unreasonable? Maybe (or a resounding yes from my daughter who can read the same book 2 and 3 times). But I have to say that this opening chapter was delightfully written; it drew me in. I liked the voice, liked the location (Miami, which seems somewhat exotic to me), found the characters interesting. I was pleased and breathed a sigh of relief: I would continue on.
The novel covers a wide expanse of time - roughly 25 years, give or take. I think it's handled marvelously. Each chapter covers a chunk of time: 1969, 1970, 1976, 1982, 1990, 1992, 1993. Each jump in time is handled smoothly: we're quickly and deftly brought up to speed on the important details that might've happened in a missing year and it's done in such a way that it doesn't feel herky-jerky. Small details are given that allow us to see the passage of time. Just wonderfully done.
This novel felt quiet to me, quiet but powerful. It builds, each new era on top of the old so that I felt like I'd spent a lifetime with the narrator. The story is emotional and beautifully rendered. I highly recommend it.