I’m doing more reading than writing now, but after the marathon of finishing my second novel, I don’t feel too guilty. Besides, it’s part of the training. I was at a workshop put on by Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada of the Larsen/Pomada Literary Agency last week, and they gave us Ernest Gaines Six Golden Rules for Writing: Read, Read, Read, Write, Write, Write. Now Ernest Gaines is a writer for whom I have great respect. He’s written some wonderful novels – The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and A Lesson Before Dying – to name just two. This is a man who knows something about writing, so if he says I should read, read I will.
Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary Agency and author of the seminal book on contemporary writing, Writing the Breakout Novel, talks about a novel needing to have tension on each and every page. That is a tall order. In my novels, I feel like I get good tension on most pages, but all? Not quite. When I first read that, I thought about books I’d read and could honestly only think of a precious few books I would describe in that way – The Day of the Jackal, Jaws, and one of my all time favorites, Kindred by Octavia Butler. Oh, there are probably others, but that’s what came to my mind.
This week I read a book that certainly fills Maass’s “tension on every page” maxim. I don’t remember where I heard about this book – read a review or heard something on the radio about it, I think. I scribbled it on a scrap of paper with a note to pick it up. That note rattled around my purse and car for a while, then last week I picked up The Last Child by John Hart. Holy Smoke, what a book! Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have a good chunk of time this week to just sit down and read it. I had three sub teaching jobs this week, a couple of appointments, a day of a thousand errands, etc. You know how it is. Anyway, I grabbed a little time here and there, but once I started the book, I put off what I could and read. I found myself praying for long stop lights on the way to and from school so I could read a page or at least finish a paragraph. I carried the book into stores in hopes I would have to stand on line. I stayed up too late reading. I got up early and read a few pages over breakfast. Every time I thought I’d have an hour or two, something came up.
Today was to be my day. The phone rang at 6:15 a.m. “Do you want to sub today.” “Oh, gosh, sorry. Can’t. The dentist.” Okay. Not the dentist. Just an absolutely delicious book. I saw clear reading time. Just some obligations in the morning, but by ten, the time would be mine, all mine. At 11:30, Dave said, “How about I take you out to lunch?” Not even one of my favorite mini-dates – lunch out with my hubby – was going to get me away from that book until I finished. I hope Dave had a nice time.
This is a book that is more convoluted and well-written than almost anything I’ve ever read. It has mysteries inside of conundrums wrapped in enigmas. And the writing is simply wonderful. Hart takes you to North Carolina and you don’t want to be any place else until the last word. You feel the suffocating heat and the mosquitoes nibbling you. The smell of death fills your mouth and gags you. You hear the voice of God speaking to Freemantle. It’s all there. His characters are perfect – damaged, vulnerable, sympathetic people pursued by black-hearted, malevolent evil-doers of the first order. Holy Guacamole! How does he come up with this stuff? John Grisham pales in comparison, and trust me, I love John Grisham.
So, if you don’t have a bad ticker, and you do have an open day or so on your schedule, pick up a copy of The Last Child by John Hart and enjoy. It does not disappoint.