Monday, May 16, 2016

That feeling again.


      Maybe you've experienced it too. That feeling when you read a book that reaches into you so far, so deep, and on such a special, rare, emotional level that you can do nothing but live in the story all the time you're reading it, and then when you close the last page you don't know whether to start bawling or jump up and dance around or lift your face to heaven and thank God that such a book exists.

    I am not even exaggerating, folks. This is serious stuff we're talking about!

     I just read a book. (And no, I did not just sing that to the tune of Sam Hunt's "I Met a Girl". What are you talking about.) It was a beautiful, horrible, dreadful, amazingly wonderful book. Maybe the best book I've read so far this year. Possibly the best book I've read since Hidden PlacesPossibly....the best book I've read, period. Possibly.

     This is the book I read:

*****Mattie Gokey has a word for everything. She collects words, stores them up as a way of fending off the hard truths of her life, the truths that she can't write down in stories. The fresh pain of her mother's death. The burden of raising her sisters while her father struggles over his brokeback farm. The mad welter of feelings Mattie has for handsome but dull Royal Loomis, who says he wants to marry her. And the secret dreams that keep her going--visions of finishing high school, going to college in New York City, becoming a writer.
     Yet when the drowned body of a young woman turns up at the hotel where Mattie works, all her words are useless. But in the dead woman's letters, Mattie again finds her voice, and a determination to live her own life.
     Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, this coming-of-age novel effortlessly weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, and real, and wholly original.*****

     And....IT HAS RUINED ME. (In the very best possible way, of course.)

      It's knocked me over like a ton of bricks and kept me in its grasp and won't let go. The words. Ohhhhhhh, the words. The people, the hurts, the happy moments, the horrible, sad moments...the way the good, bad, and ugly is all mixed together in a beautiful conglomeration of what life is, how it feels, and how we live it.

     It's set in upstate New York in 1906, which to start off with is the perfect backdrop if you ask me. It's about the people of a tiny little community called Eagle Bay. Farming people, poor people, unusual people. It's about one girl coming of age and trying to figure out which path in life to take, how to do what she was born to and still remain loyal to her family, how to grow up in a world that was hard and still is. I identify with Mattie so much it physically hurts. Even though our circumstances are different, even though we live a century apart, there are feelings in her that are the exact same feelings I have. There are so many things she says that I would read over and over again, and just think, "Wow, is that ever true."  (Not to mention, there's this murder mystery threaded throughout the entire thing, which itself is just too cool. I'm sorry if that sounded really morbid.)

     At first I didn't know if I'd get into it. I didn't know if I'd like Mattie -- she seemed humorless and gloomy. That lasted for about ten seconds. Mattie isn't the most cheerful of narrators, true, but she's so completely real. She doesn't sugarcoat things. She's coarse; the people she lives with are coarse. Her life is hard.

   Here's what I wrote in my journal Friday afternoon when I was halfway through it.

     Afternoon --

     This is what it feels like. Now I remember.

     This is what it feels like to read a book and lose yourself so utterly in its pages that you can't make yourself think about anything else. This is what it feels like to want to travel back in time to 1906 so fiercely, and to feel so close to it that you can even taste it and hear it and smell it and feel it. This is how it feels to find yourself in the voice of a heroine who started out as merely a creation of someone's imagination, but became a real honest-to-goodness person the minute you opened the book and heard her talk.

    I am completely entranced. When was the last time a book got me like this? I'm living in this book. I'm jealous because I wish I'd written it. I almost feel like I have -- in a way -- except my heroine's name is Addie instead of Mattie.

     Like I said, this book is not all roses. There's some yucky stuff. For starters, the amount of coarse language that comes out of these characters' mouths, coupled with the many adult themes that run throughout, are not what I would deem appropriate for young adult fiction. I wouldn't give this book to a twelve-year-old. I probably wouldn't give this book to anyone under sixteen. It's really tough. It's dirty and foul and at times not very easy to read. (I'll bet it was an absolute bear to write. Sheesh.) The only thing -- the only thing -- that I might change about it, is the fact that it's sort of hopeless. I mean, there are sunny moments; Mattie and Royal in the boat, Weaver and Mattie word-dueling, Mattie and her sisters (sometimes)....but the whole thing is nevertheless mostly bleak. Usually I don't like bleak. In this case, however, I dig bleak. Because somehow everything about the way it was written made it that much more powerful. (Am I making any sense at all?)

      I don't condone everything in it. But does that mean I don't think it should be read? That I wouldn't have written it myself?

     Actually, no.

     Actually, I really wish I had written this book.

    Because despite everything, or maybe because of it, this is a masterpiece. It's because of all the hard things that make it what it is, and what it is is beautiful. Because actually, it feels like something I would write. It feels like something I would be proud of creating. There are aspects that do remind me some of my own novel: it's about a girl who longs to leave her home and see other places and do other things, but at the same time feels tied by loyalty to her home and her family. A Northern Light made me feel terrible about my book, because it's so brilliant and the emotions run so deep, and how could anything I write ever come close to being that good? Am I capable of such storytelling?

    Well, even though it discouraged me, A Northern Light also inspired me to try. Harder.

    I need to know if I am, in fact, capable of such storytelling. I need to know if the emotions I feel and the vision I have for this novel of mine, this novel that's been simmering in my mind and sprawling over hundreds and hundreds of notebook pages over two years, can ever be what I see it as in my heart. I need to know if I can.

    This is what I wrote in my journal after I'd finished it:

     I just finished the book. (My life is over.)

    I have made three judgements. One is that Jennifer Donnelly is an incredibly gifted writer, and if I can ever write a novel as brilliant and gut-wrenching as this one of hers, my life's dream will be fulfilled.
    Two is that Royal Loomis would NOT make a good husband, at least not for Mattie. I think I was blinded by the soda bread and the shirtsleeves. {insert spoiler, spoiler, spoiler} ;-P

     Three is that Mattie Gokey is indeed a light. She flickers now and again, but she won't go out. She's steady and reliable as an oak tree. She is unselfish and kind, but she won't let herself disappear in others' troubles. {insert spoiler}

    There is a fourth judgement, and it is this -- I absolutely love this book.

Coming home      And I do. For all the pain it caused me, for the wacky funk its left me in for the past two days, (heh, HEH), for all the fiddleheads and the cow manure and the long words and the heartbreaks, I love it unashamedly. And I'm going to try and write my book, and make it as good as A Northern Light. Except I'll do one thing differently. I'll give my heroine Addie something that Mattie didn't have, something that I hope she finds soon, because she needs it: and that's God's love. That's the one thing Mattie Gokey doesn't know. If I had written A Northern Light, I might have given it to her. (I might not; I don't know. I didn't write it.) But I am the one writing Curtains of Lace, and I'm sure as shooting going to give it to Addie. And it's going to hurt and it's going to sting and it's going to be every bit as wonderful as this book. It's going to be amazing. :-)


  1. I have this vague familiar feeling like I might have read this book before... but I just don't remember for sure!!

    I love love love what you said at the end of your post, about Addie meeting God's love... and how Mattie didn't have that opportunity. That is such a powerful statement! I'm excited to hear more about your book! (And maybe to read it someday?)!

    1. Olivia, I'm pretty sure if you'd read it you'd remember!

      Yeah, I was thinking after I'd finished it -- what is it about this book that gave it that undercurrent of emptiness? And then I realized, Mattie was alone. Not because she didn't have people around her, but because she didn't have God to lean and rely on.

      I'm really excited to dive back into my novel now. :-) I hope it will be out there for the world to read, someday!

  2. Wow, what a stunning review. That must be some sort of book! I understand what you mean about the sadness and realness of a story sometimes being the thing that makes us love it so. I know that must sound so weird, but melancholy can almost be healing and beautiful sometimes. Thanks for sharing!

    1. OldFashionedGirl, it IS! Right? I'm glad you understand. This is one of the most beautiful, "tragical" (to quote Anne Shirley) books I have ever read.

      You're welcome! Thanks for reading. :-)

  3. Amazing review. You have a wonderful way with words!

  4. EMMA! How in the world do you write like this? Never mind about Jennifer Donnelly's writing, if I could write as poignantly as Emma...gaahh! Can I just say? There are times when I feel envious of YOUR writing style. (So put that in your pipe and smoke it. Haha!)

    -sigh- This post was beautiful, and I can totally relate to your feelings over this book. I've never read any of Jennifer Donelly's stories myself, but there have definitely been other stories which have sucked me in and stirred something deep inside of me. And, oh! I love it when that happens. :)

    I'm SO glad you're going to give Addie what Mattie Gokey didn't have, because it hurts when a character you love is missing the most important thing in life. It really does. Even when they're only fictional. And, while sad stories can be just as good as happy ones, still I think they're definitely improved when they've got that ounce of hope mixed in with the sadness. :)

    Curtains of Lace. Is that the title of your book? Ohhh! I LOVE it! That's an excellent title. :D

    1. Miss March -- seriously, you need to stop being so awfully NICE all the time! I mean seriously! Every comment you send my way just makes my heart swell up with happiness and picks me up and makes me want to try harder. I think you have the gift of encouragement. :-) I mean it -- thank you so much!!!

      I know! It's such a deep, resonant feeling. A really good book like this sticks with you forever. Curtains of Lace is the title of my book, yes. That is, for now. I kind of want to change it, but I still haven't thought of anything better. And everyone keeps saying they like it, so maybe I won't change it after all!

  5. This post was splendidiforous, by the way, and yes, give Addie the love of the Lord, because it is SO IMPORTANT. :-D

    Can I just say that I hate it that my dreadful 'Period Drama undergarments' guest post is on the list of the most popular posts on your blog? #embarrassing. (SHOOOOCKING ABOUT THE HASHTAG I KNOW.)

    ~ Naomi

    1. Yes, I WILL. Because it's the most important thing there is, and what would she be without it?!

      *burst out laughing* I noticed that too. I wondered what you'd think. That's just, really funny. :-)

  6. First of all - your new profile picture. Aww. :)

    Second, I have felt that way... few books have made such an impression on me as that, but I can think of 3 - "Little Women", "Lord of the Rings" and "To Kill a Mockingbird". Especially the first two - because I've known them, grown up with them, studied them, cried over them, laughed over them, and loved them since as long as I can remember. But they also touched a deep place within me, something that impacted my life, even in a small way. :)

    Third, I really am slightly puzzled about this book. ;) Not that you have confused me in any sense - it's just, I'm not sure what I'd think of it. It sounds like a good book, but if it's got mature themes (and I mean, hey, you said you wouldn't give it to anyone younger than 16 - that rules me out! ;P) but if it's so amazing... you've got me torn, Emma. ;) I guess I'll wait until I turn sixteen first, before I make up my mind. Haha.

    Just a note - I'm seeing a trend. You seem to have a natural affection for heroines called Mattie. ;)

    That last paragraph... *nods head* YES! That's how I feel in MY stories, especially the WW2 one. I want to make sure the main character has the knowledge of God's love - real, pure HOPE - because that is the most important thing in life. I just don't want to cross the line and get 'preachy', which I am apt to do. I only want a smooth, subtle and soft tinge of that amazing love, that casts out all fear.

    ~Miss Meg

    1. First of all -- aww, thanks. :-)

      Yes, I'm sure you have! I think everyone has those books that will stick with them forever, the ones that have an extra-special meaning. I haven't read Little Women or the Lord of the Rings, but still I know what you mean.

      Ha, you're not the only one! You don't know what kind of a funk I was in after I finished it! I couldn't figure what to think. It was actually really hard to write this -- then I'd finally come to some conclusions about the book. I think you're a really mature fifteen-year-old, so I'd recommend it to you. But with a warning, because it will probably tear your heart to shreds like it did mine. Anyway, it's up to you. :-)

      That hasn't escaped my notice either, haha. Mattie Ross, Mattie Spenser, Mattie Gokey...if I have a daughter someday I'll probably name her Mattie!

      YES. Exactly. It's sometimes hard to get that smooth, subtle and soft tinge into your writing, but it's SO important, so we keep trying. ;-P


    I would have commented earlier, but I've been snatching bits and pieces of it in the scattered time I've been having, and thus the tardiness.

    But seriously. GIRL. Your writing puts me to shame. And I have--totally and fully and honestly--every confidence that with all the passion and insight you have, you will make a novel that is every bit as incredible as ANL.



I'd love it if you'd drop me a line or two! I always enjoy receiving comments from readers and friends. I ask that you please keep your comments clean and God-honoring, and please don't write anything you wouldn't want your grandmother to read. Also, if you are commenting under anonymous, please do leave your name (or some sort of moniker so that you aren't totally nameless). Thank you so much and have a lovely day!

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