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Sunday, March 6, 2016

What I'm Reading (#1)

I'm firmly of the opinion that as a writer, you need to keep reading.  And not (tempting as it is) reading only books in your preferred genre.  There are many ways of telling a story, and if you only read the sort of thing you write, you'll never learn more about what other voices sound like.

Read non-fiction too, by the way.  I've gotten lots of ideas for stories from reading about science and history.  In fact, my two scheduled releases from Oghma Creative Media this year, Sephirot (April) and Gears (November), found their genesis in books on Jewish mystical traditions and Greek archaeology, respectively.

So I thought it might be interesting to do periodic reviews of books I'm reading.  Maybe you'll find some new writers to inspire you; maybe you'll reciprocate and send me suggestions of new things to read.

So many books, so little time.


I was wandering around in Ithaca's wonderful indy bookstore, Buffalo Street Books, killing time before a doctor's appointment, and I picked up a copy of Jeanette Winterson's The Gap of Time.  Intrigued by the title and the cover, I read the flyleaf, and found out that she'd taken Shakespeare's play The Winter's Tale and set it in modern times.

At this point, you might be thinking, "Wait, isn't this kind of trite?  Hasn't Gregory Maguire rung the changes on this all too many times, capitalizing on his success with Wicked?"  Well, yes, but that doesn't mean that the trope can't receive a fresh lift in different hands.  (And after all, remember that long before Maguire, C. S. Lewis took a turn at this himself, with one of his least known -- but in my opinion, best -- novels, Till We Have Faces, which is a beautiful, and surprisingly poignant, retelling of the myth of Eros and Psyche.)

Winterson's story centers around the dysfunctional family of Leo, a jealous, angry hedge fund manager who is the stand-in for Shakespeare's King Leontes.  Leo imagines that his wife, Mimi, who is pregnant, has been having an affair with Leo's best friend, Xeno -- and in Winterson's story, the jealousy is directed toward both of them, because Leo himself had a sexual relationship with Xeno when they were teenagers.  In his rage at being the excluded end of the triangle, he has a catastrophic fight with his wife and best friend.  Worse, when the baby is born, he gives the infant to a friend along with $500,000, ordering her to be delivered to Xeno -- since Leo's convinced the child is actually his.

The whole thing comes unraveled when the friend is murdered before he can deliver the baby, and she is rescued by an old man (Shep) and his son (Clo), and adopted.  She's given the name Perdita, "little lost one," and grows up not knowing her real origins.  When she meets and falls in love with the gentle, hesitant Zel, and it turns out that Zel is Xeno's son, the whole story corkscrews along to a satisfying conclusion of wrongs admitted, love renewed, and friendship restored.

Winterson's handling of the story is deft, light, and touching without ever being maudlin or saccharine.  The characters are complex and have real depth, and she explores Shakespeare's themes of jealousy, fate, and loyalty all the more intensely for modern audiences by placing the story in a contemporary setting.  That said, it never loses its mythic, fairy-tale lilt, which would be all too easy considering the dark undertones of the original play.

This was my first introduction to Winterson's writing, and I'm certain to read more.  If you love Shakespeare, and enjoy a classic tale deftly told, check out The Gap of Time.

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