Literary conversation

The renowned librarian and book lover Nancy Pearl recently talked about The Half Brother on Seattle NPR station KUOW. She did something unusual: raved (RAVED) about the book, but also asked readers to weigh on on their opinions of the plot. She wonders, how much coincidence is too much? And references Sophocles and his Oedipus cycle–which, not coincidentally, I was thinking of, and read several times, while writing The Half Brother.

I like that the book is sparking conversation. Readers are individuals; reasonable people can disagree about whether something works. I also like, very much, that she called my writing “splendid” and “gorgeous,” and that she said, “I want people to read this novel. It is a wonderful, wonderful novel.” That’s not a humblebrag, just a straight-up brag.

Plot has become the marker of middlebrow. This is an enormous topic, and I have been musing and musing on it, not just since Nancy Pearl brought it up, but almost since I began this book. I struggled mightily with the plot—not with thinking it up, but with what came to me unbidden. From the beginning, The Half Brother was a story of fate and secrets and identity. Knowing the reactions it might prompt in some readers, I attempted to remove one aspect of the plot; but when I did, the book went, in my mind, from a graceful, completed object, with its own symmetry, to something less than itself. It felt, in the end, more organic to leave in the twists than attempt to placate those who are ready to cry “artifice!” But all fiction is artifice, of course. At some point, a reader’s sustaining the fictional dream becomes a matter of both willingness and taste, which are capricious and individual…

More will be coming on this topic, which is nothing less than the meaning of fiction itself. In the meantime, here is Nancy on Kuow.