Obviously there are plenty of novelists out there to discover, but somehow it surprised me that Jane Hamilton hadn’t shown up on my radar-screen earlier. The SF Chronicle said that with Map of the World she, “removed all doubt that she belongs among the major writers of our time,” for goodness’ sake. It’s right there on the cover.
The first book of hers delivered to me by my mother was the Book of Ruth. I’d been burned earlier in the year by another novel set in a rural community featuring a narrator whose faculties were less than stellar (I’m dreading writing about Icy Sparks, an OPRAH BOOK CLUB book - oy - but will get to it sooner or later). In fact, Icy Sparks marred by enjoyment of much of …Ruth. Eventually I found myself talking about it a whole lot. The sense of dread that built and built was just so intense! I had to take breaks from reading. I complained that it was going to end horribly, that I would be so depressed by the foreseeable catastrophe.
Part of me is extremely fatalistic; sometimes I identify as a nihilist but I am constantly on the lookout for excuses to invest my energy in hope. I love being on the side of extropy, but know in my heart that nothing can ultimately stop entropy. The ending of …Ruth does not involve an eye-roll-worthy deus ex machina at all, but it does provide sparkles of salvation. Is that too cheesy? The book is NOT cheesy.
I was so excited about Jane Hamilton after finishing her first book that I requested a whole bunch of her work from my local library branch. Map of the World, which I read second, has very intelligent and educated narrators and a much broader scope than …Ruth. It also investigates family life, death and mourning, upheaval and survival, small town politics and love. This might be Hamilton’s masterpiece, but I haven’t read everything she’s written, and thankfully she’s still producing novels!
Laura Rider was a bit lighter, self-consciously so, but enjoyable. It’s fun and sexy compared to her other books, with lower stakes, to say the least. Last summer I spent 5 days in Freeport, Illinois for the wedding of two of my best friends so Hamilton’s settings right around that Wisconsin/Illinois border are familiar to me in a way they wouldn’t have been had I read her books earlier.
The Short History of a Prince dives into the dramas of high school (both in flashback and in the present as the narrator re-lives his high school memories through his new career as an English teacher) and ballet, which are not explored in Hamilton’s other books and I found it to be engrossing and sympathetic. I look forward to following Jane Hamilton’s career and am really thrilled to have her writing in my life.