Monday, March 25, 2013

City of Too Many Details?

I get it. I finally get it! I now understand what it is to skim through long, detailed descriptions that are unnecessary to move a good story along. This hasn't always been a clear lesson to me. In fact, when my book club discusses books, I am the one who falls on the side of enjoying all the detailed writing. Defender of the Details, that's me! I'm a Henry James fan, for goodness sakes! How could I possibly want to skim text and not read every word? Is that even possible for me?

Well, it is now.

If you'll remember, I was reading Daniel Hecht's City of Masks during my spring break. It's a really good mystery and spooky enough to make me jump at noises in my house. I am not normally a fan of the paranormal genre, but I really liked this ghost story, and - really - it's so much more than that. It's about the terrible secrets families keep and the lies they tell each other...and themselves. I enjoyed the suspense and the thrills, liked the characters in the book and loved the setting.

What I didn't like? All the details that described every little piece of every little thing. The suspense would be building, I was ready to find out what happened next and, suddenly, I would be lost in a forest of words describing the character's scenic drive through a neighborhood in New Orleans. I felt...frustrated...and, about the time I hit my third forest, I began to skim past the descriptions. 

Are you shocked? I was.

While I read the book on my Kindle Fire, I noted that the paperback version has 464 pages. Trust me, I could have saved some trees and made it a shorter book without losing anything valuable from the story. It wasn't that the descriptions were bad, they were spot-on, just...unnecessary.

But wait.

That's not exactly fair,...and it isn't the whole truth. 

What the author was describing in all those forests?  Details about the city of New Orleans. He was trying to capture the essence of what it's like, and he did an excellent job. If I had never been to New Orleans, I may have needed those descriptions to understand the many worlds that collide there to help build a movie in my head. Because I have been to New Orleans, I understood exactly what he was saying and didn't need him to interpret a place I already knew. Perhaps another reader, who has never been there, would have appreciated those detailed descriptions.

I did notice, at the end of the book, the author thanked all the good people of New Orleans who helped him out and welcomed him to their city. He was specific in some of his gratitude. It would seem he was treated quite well by the city during his stay there, so I began to wonder if he was also trying to write a travelogue...or, perhaps, he was just so enamored by the city that seduces so many, he just couldn't say enough about it. 

Details aside, I enjoyed the story enough to purchase the next book in the series. I won't read it right away, I have others waiting impatiently that were in line first, but I know I want to read it. I also want to test myself. I checked the setting out for the second book, and I've never been there - so, I'll see if I feel the same way about the descriptions. My own little experiment, so to speak. 

You know I don't like to commit to a series, but this series is the kind I can live with because there's really no commitment. The next book isn't a continuation of the first story. All the same main characters are there, but each book is different.  It's the kind where the main character goes on another adventure, another ghost hunt...

You know, like Scooby Doo. ;)

I should note that my friend, Jane, said the book seemed to be set up like a television series - the intro, the adventure, the truth revealed, the wrap-up, even the light-hearted banter at the end. I hadn't thought of it that way until she said it, but she's right. Makes me wonder...

Could Hecht have written the series with television in mind?
 Jinkies! Now, that would make me run screaming into the night!

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