Friday, February 20, 2009

Go Ugh

Before we get into the hoopla of the blog post - there are a few things we at Novel Matters are excited to share with you.

In the weeks to come we will have things that will make you smile, things that will get you excited, and things that will make you have to pick your jaw up off the ground. And a couple of things that will require someone with a spatula to scrape you off the ceiling. Boo yay!

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This is on top of our monthly give-aways (books, gifts, and more!), guest bloggers (folks like Andy McGuire, Sally Stuart, Karen Ball, Jeff Gerke, and more!), and the other surprises we have up our collective sleeves. Fasten your seat belts, faithful reader - things are about to get very, very interesting.

And now we return to our regularly scheduled programming:

Sometimes a voice comes along and rocks the visible universe. Like William Goldman's The Princess Bride, and no one asks why. We just know, somewhere in what Carl Jung would call the collective conscious (or unconscious, depending on his mood), we just get it. No one needs to explain it. We read, and we understand. It's a bestseller because it is wonderful. It's a phenomenon because everyone gets it on a primal basis. The fact that Rob Reiner can come along and make a bang-on fantastic movie out of the book is a total bonus - and helps us to keep the love alive for generations to come.

I finished a novel the other week and my husband asked what I thought of it. "It was good, but I didn't go 'Ugh'".

"Ugh" is the sound of my primal instincts becoming fully awakened -it is the noise of my most basic emotions zinging to the forefront. I laugh, I cry, I yell at the text, I plead, I threaten, I run and hide, I clap my hands. All the right buttons are pushed and somewhere deep inside, I hear the sound of "Ugh". My primal, inner cavewoman is satisfied.

Lest you think that only novels like Anna Karenina should make us go "Ugh", (and they should!), I need to remind us that primal feelings are not pristine feelings. They are messy, strange, difficult feelings and the things that can stir them are often surprising - even to the one being stirred. Oddities can bring out our primal response - like the runaway train that started out as Lynn Truss writing a humble book about punctuation Eats, Shoots & Leaves. There are nearly 600 reviews total of the book on How odd is that? Doesn't make you want to run out and see what all the fuss is about? What made that happen? A particularly virile gang of English teachers out to raise the profile of the comma no matter the cost? Probably no. But there is something about the book that makes us go "Ugh". The fact that our "Ugh" is wrapped in proper punctuation matters not. A connection has been made. My guess on this one is that the primal Ugh here is the "I'm a smarty-pants" feeling.

Sometimes the Ugh comes from the sappy melodrama of a book we "shouldn't" love, but we do. The guilty pleasure we don't talk about, but read over and over again with the covers pulled over our heads. I had two children (a toddler and a newborn) when I read The Nanny Diaries. Oh my, I was Ughing all over the place! Primal emotional chords being pulled every third page. At least that was my excuse for reading it the first time. I confess, when I read it again, it was just for fun - just to let it touch those particular feelings again.

And the number one Ugh we all want to feel rising up from our primordial bellies? Love. Ah, love. Twoo Wuv.

Shaken, not stirred. Unrequited. Passionate. Godly. Brilliant. Consuming. Love. Enter the Twilight series, and The Shack. Both books about love. Both are romance novels. Both stroke the same deep chord, and ask the same question we've been asking since the dawn of time....

Does he love me?

Oh we need to know Does he love me? Whether "he" is God, a lover, a vampire, our dog - if the story asks the question well enough, and if it can take us to a place where we find our answer is, "Yes", then we go. Masses of us, running to the Yes we need so much it hurts. But these books go one better. They don't talk about just any love, just every day love. They talk about impossible love. Girl and vampire. God and humanity. Love that just cannot be, yet is.

And that is the deepest Ugh of all.


Susan Storm Smith said...

I have so, um, decided to change my thoughts on the word "ugh". Hurrah!

Steve G said...

I think that is a very insightful take on the books - there is something about a great love story, isn't there?!!

Maybe we can also ask the question backwards, too, and come up with another element of the Break Out book. What did they NOT do that did not "doom" the book to the fires of Mordor (I'm going to get mail on that sentence...)? I think they kept a balance. As bad as the fate of the little girl was in the Shack, he did not give details. Because He kept his story focused on conversations, he did not overplay his portrayal of the Trinity or overuse action to sustain the book. His connection was cerebral, about connecting to common thoughts and ideas in his readers (the twoo wuv you talk about). It wasn't too twoo to trust. So in our writing, we need to be aware of issues of balance and extremes.
word verification - ressign: The act of changing billboards.

Kathleen Popa said...

"I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world." ~ Walt Whitman

Sorry, I couldn't help quoting Whitman. It's not unrelated. I think there must be a connection between the "YAWP" of the writer and the "Ugh!" of the reader. I love an author who's unafraid to swim in the waters of the collective unconscious, to feel rather than think, to mess with the questions he can't answer. I think that's the difference between a didactic, simplistic novel and one connects with me in the realm of fear and wonder.

Bonnie Grove said...

Susan: Hurray! It's not a bad word, eh? Great to hear from you!

Steve: Yes, you are going to get mail about that sentence. I'm just looking for a stamp right now.

Katy: Great insight! I think another difference between simpler books and more profound books is the focus on objects/objectives over human experience. Simple books offer up a character type who needs to solve a complicated problem. Richer books give us complicated characters who try to make sense of problems.

Anonymous said...

The Ugh! Factor. I'll never read a book the same way again, without looking for that feeling deep inside where I live.

And Steve, your comments from Monday's post were very insightful, as always. I would love to spend an evening with you and Bonnie, and just listen. Not talk, not add to the dialogue. Just listen. I'd come away richer, for sure.

Patti Hill said...

Ugh! I love it! Now, I have a sound to express that confounding joy of being connected to a story that's too wonderful, too pure, too honest, too deliciously crafted that I never, ever want to put it down. I want to crawl into the pages and live there, most of the time, not always, like The Poisonwood Bible. That book confirmed my non-calling to the Congo. But the way Kingsolver took on the voices of four sisters, kept me reading, even after the fire ant storm. And then there's The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas. Oh my, friendship, tender longings for the impossible and hopes realized. Double ugh! And Joy School by Elizabeth Berg (I know, I'm a bit obsessive about her. It's an illness.), this is a triple ugh for me. A girl on the ragged cusp of adolesence demonstrates exquisite wisdom, while her heart aches for that one true love. Triple ugh!!!

The element that makes each book ugheriffic is unique to that book, because the author and reader must make a match, an agreement of sorts, to enter into a partnership of imagination. I will enter into this partnership as a reader if the author is transparent or honest. That's what I look for...and craft and voice and a pretty cover. Yes, I'm shallow and proud of it!

Martin Reaves said...

Bonnie, what an eloquent way to describe that visceral response. I must say I was with you all the way until I saw Young and The Shack dredged up in the same blog as William Goldman. We've looked through the cracked and grimy windows of The Shack, so I dare not tire us all by returning to that particular tainted piece of real estate.

I will say that talk of that instinctual "ugh" in relationship to Goldman's writing makes me think that what our ganglia is experiencing is brilliance. Writer's like William Goldman are in possession of something that cannot quite be defined; their gift is such that we know atavistically that something is going on beyond our ken. Try as we may it is impossible to see exactly what the writer is doing that has taken us somewhere far beyond reading. There is no book; no pages and no words--we have been transported. We are in the presence of a genius so blazing and yet so quiet that all you can do is wish you'd taken that Evelyn Wood course so you could get to the next page more quickly.

William Goldman was the first (and may be the only) writer who had the ability to make me gasp out loud--how does a writer do that? Incidentally, the gasp affair happened while reading Goldman's Marathon Man, possibly one of the greatest suspense novels ever written (and I believe he had me gasping again in the amazing sequel, Brothers). Sigh...I've lost track of why I started, but it really is your fault, Bonnie, for mentioning his name. To paraphrase Harlen Ellison in his justifiable praise of Dan Simmons: "For those of us to whom good writing is everything, the name William Goldman bears great weight."

Patti: I am well into The Poisonwood Bible and must concur with a great big Ugh!

Now...what were we talking about?

Bonnie Grove said...

Sharon: Steve and I would love to spend and evening with you! But you would totally have to talk, girl. Much love to you!!

Patti:I'm a Kingsolver fan in heaps! And YES to The Poisonwood Bible, I was captivated by it and by Kingsolver's gift for apt metaphor and smooth transitions. BUT let me point to a book of hers that, while not as grand as Poisonwood - moved me deeply: The Bean Trees. Glorious study of how big small human hearts can grow. Flat out loved it.

Mott: I am glad to see you have a full appreciation for Goldman's talents! Don't you just love how a beloved author must, even at the moanings of his fans, balance on the same human scale as works some deem "unworthy".
Makes me dance with joy before the Father to see how very different He has made each one of us - and yet commands us all to "play nice".
Always love to hear from you, Mott.

(I don't usually do the "word verification" thing - but I liked this one: awyerve. What a drunken pirate says when he finds his wallet.)

Steve G said...

It is always a dangerous things to know what one's buttons are. The "just don't push the red button" thing keeps echoing around the backstage of my mind...

I find that I like different authors for different reasons. Some tell a great story. Others it is the characters. Still others it seems to be the setting, the world that they create. The ugh comes when several of these elements come together. And often it is hard to tell why. I think in moving pictures, so I probably get more out of a novel that paints a complete picture and uses many senses.

word verification - sardeare: What I say when I forget to change the laundry over...

Unknown said...

I think perhaps Emily Dickinson voiced that "ugh" quality in a way that has seemed definitive to me:

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me,
I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off,
I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”

Latayne C Scott