Friday, February 11, 2011

If At First You Don't Suceed

Within the last few weeks we’ve mentioned books that took several attempts at reading before they fully hooked us. One of those for me is Snow Falling on Cedars – part murder mystery, part love story, altogether literary. The story opens on the small fictional island of San Piedro on the Washington coast where a man of Japanese descent is on trial for the murder of a local fisherman and war veteran. I put the book aside twice before I was able to make the investment required to finish it. These are some of the things the author did extremely well which made me glad that I did:

  • The use of setting to establish the tone. “San Piedro is an island of five thousand damp souls…” which had “a verdant beauty that inclined its residents toward the poetical.”
  • The storm completely cuts off the town from the rest of the world while the inhabitants are confronted with their prejudices stemming from WWII. The local reporter wishes “it would snow recklessly and bring to the island the impossible winter purity, so rare and precious, he remembered fondly from his youth.” He gets his wish and a lifetime of memories surface during the proceedings. The town’s power is restored just at the close of the trial as the jury is deliberating.
  • The use of the metaphor of the salmon racing to spawn and meeting an insurmountable obstacle, mirroring the defendant’s own situation. “He imagined them slamming against his net in astonishment at this invisible thing that finished their lives in the last days of an urgent journey.” He was so close to realizing his own dreams, only to be locked away in a cell accused of murder.
  • A pivotal moment when the reporter realizes that his father had more integrity than he. He is spending thoughtful moments in his deceased father’s office when the power is restored to the house, and he “heard water moving in the pipes and the drip from the taps he’s left open.” His father’s influence moves in his life once more, including the knowledge that he must forgive and move on after life's disappointments.
As I was reading this book, I knew I wanted to post some of its beautiful passages, and these are just a sprinkling. It's not a 'Christian' book, so a word of warning to sensitive readers. But there's nothing like finding yourself in the hands of a skilled story teller.

What extraordinary examples of setting and/or personification (the storm) stand out in your mind?


Latayne C Scott said...

Debbie, I loved this book -- and like you, didn't get into it right away. As you mentioned, there is a power outage during the storm. For me, the light as it filtered through the windows of the courthouse became nearly as much a character as some of the people in the book. It had presence. I don't have the book in front of me but the author's descriptions of light and snow outside the windows are unforgettable.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Something similar happened to me with Room. I started it. Couldn't get entirely into it. Put it down. Picked it back up. The voice is so unique and well, the setting a room.

It's such a conversation piece. It stirred so many thoughts about motherhood, feeling trapped, the choices we make about how we view the world, etc.

Once hooked, I couldn't put it down.
~ Wendy

Nicole said...

Just wondering if you saw the film, Debbie, since you metnioned the author establishing tone. The dreary dark tone in the movie prevailed throughout.

I do have the patience for stories to develop. I can't think of one I set aside and picked up later. Usually I'll continue until the story finally matters to me--or not.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

No, I haven't seen the film yet. I probably will at some point, but many have told me that it was disappointing. (Maybe when/if it comes out at Redbox for $1?)
I've started 'The Glass Castle' and though the family moves frequently, they have so far end up living in squalor in a dusty, forsaken place each time, which very much sets the tone for her young life. Wendy mentioned that she was reading it (thanks) and I saw it on my daughter's shelf. So far, so good

Megan Sayer said...


"It is freezing, and extraordinary -18 degrees C, and it's snowing, and in the language that is no longer mine, the snow is qanik - big, almost weightless crystals falling in stacks and covering the ground with a layer of pulverised white frost. December darkness rises up from the grave, seeming as limitless as the sky above us..."

This is Peter Hoeg's luminescent opening from Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow - a book I've read probably fifteen times, and each time it makes me want to visit Greenland.

The movie was SO disappointing - as was the movie of Snow Falling on Cedars to me (has literary fiction ever made good cinema? Probably somewhere).

Debbie you've inspired me to read Snow Falling on Cedars, thanks. I just need a few more reading hours in my days - my TBR list is getting rather long.