Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Alison McGhee makes me cry, damn her

I'm 6'4", 270, have a black belt in karate, am working toward deadlifting 500 pounds and I cry when I read books. I can't help it. I'm a sensitive fellow. And it isn't all books that make me cry. And most of the time it isn't real crying, just that musty allergic reaction tear-welling "crying".

Bleeping Alison McGhee is the exception. Shadow Baby is the third book of hers I've read and I haven't made it through any of them without getting saline all over the pages. I love her and hate her.

She is a beautiful, beautiful writer. But good googly moogly she writes sad books with people dying and broken familial relationships and kids suffering. The crazy thing about this is that she writes books for little kids. I'm terrified to track one down.

I may not be wrong in my fears. Here's a part of the sole Amazon review for her children's book Bye-bye, Crib:

I bought this from a book club flyer that came home from school. The retro-looking illustrations looked cute, but when I actually read the text I was appalled! How is portraying a big bed as a monster or as a place where a toddler will freeze going to help with the transition from crib to bed?

I really like McGhee's writing. Less trauma would be nice. Shadow Baby is about an eleven-year old girl, Clara winter (her last name is not capitalized by her) who brings new definition to the word "precocious". She lives alone with her mother who keeps the identity of her father and grandfather from her for mysterious reasons. Her mother attends choir practices at the church once a week and one evening, Clara looks out the window of the church and sees an old man lighting lanterns in the woods so that skiers can see.

Clara decides that she will befriend the old man and do an oral history project on him for school. They become buddies and spend time together until the old man dies. The old man is not forthcoming with as much information about himself as Clara would like so she waves intricate stories about him as she does her father, grandfather and twin sister (whose existence may or may not be real as this, too, is kept from Clara by her mother).

Ultimately, Clara does discover the truths behind most everything. I'd tell you more but you should read an Alison McGhee book and this, I think, narrowly edges out Was it Beautiful?.

Speaking of books you should read, I'm changing around my ranking system. I'm finding myself having difficulties determining what the top ten books should be because there are lots of reasons why a book can be good (writing, story, uniqueness, characters, etc.) and I don't feel comfortable saying Book A's story and characters make it a better book than Book B which is a really unusual book with great writing. So I'm going with a simple system. Two stars is highly recommended. One star is recommended. A big X is don't bother.

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