marissa_doyle (marissa_doyle) wrote,

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Can I write like Connie Willis when I grow up?

I suppose the above sentiment says it all, but if I didn't write anything further this would be a pretty boring post.

There are a lot of authors I wish I could write like.  There's Mark Helprin, for one.  I read Winter's Tale after my last exam in college and barely ate or slept till I finished it.  It's still one of my favorite books, and my biblioholic 16-year-old son has flipped through it and put it regretfully aside because I suggested he would probably appreciate it more when he's older...but from the passages he's read he can see how incandescent the prose is.

But wanting to write like Mark Helprin is like wanting to play the organ like J.S. Bach--there will only be one Bach, and I suspect there will only be one Helprin.

Ms. Willis, though...  It's not that I don't think she's as celestial as Helprin.  But she does it on a more human level.  Her prose may not be the singing of angels that Helprin's is, but her stories are profoundly humane.  They depict people as they are, not with a jaundiced eye but with a deeply accepting one.

I started reading her when I ran across To Say Nothing of the Dog in Barnes & Noble and was amused by the title and the back cover text.   Then of course I read Doomsday Book, and Impossible Things ("Spice Pogrom" just tickles me.  When I'm depressed I re-read it.  Guaranteed mood-lifter.) and Passage (one of my son's favorites).  These have all been critically acclaimed and awarded and so on out the wazoo...but one of my favorite books of hers is Uncharted Territory.

I was chatting on-line with an acquaintance and we were talking about Ms. Willis's books.  I mentioned I hadn't read Uncharted Territory yet and my acquaintance wrote back, "Don't bother.  It's not very good.  Nothing happens in it.  It ends exactly the way it started."

Oh, I thought.  Okay.  But I read it anyway.  And had a reaction that was the polar opposite.

It's a very tight, self-contained story--more novella than novel.  And yes, technically, it ends exactly the way it starts and the characters' outward situation remains precisely the same.  But in the intervening hundred and fifty pages all of the characters' understanding of themselves and each other changes completely, and the reader gets pulled along in that journey perfectly.  It's also one of the most romantic stories I've ever read, even though the couple in it never utter the word 'love' or come within a gnat's whisker of even kissing.  To this day my husband and I ask each other what the hell the other of us did with the damned binoculars (an important symbol in the book) as a way of saying, "I love you."  It's a moving, perfect little gem of a story.

Mmm.  Maybe I'll re-read it this weekend.

Some day, I know, I'm going to go to a SF con or SFWA event and she's going to be there, and I will hide behind potted palms and stare at her.  But I'm not sure I want to meet her because I will turn into a disgusting little puddle of fan-girl goo all over the place and thoroughly bore her and embarrass myself.  I'll just stick to reading and rereading her books and being dazzled and delighted and smiley and teary-eyed all at once. case you wondered, Maplebunny finished his Baytril-stuffed raisins and is doing fine.



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