I recently went through a print reading slump. For some reason when I got back to the States about 6 months ago, I just lost all motivation to read anything much more challenging than a newspaper supplement. I mean, I was still getting countless tens of thousands of words off the internet, but while that is reading, in that eyes were moving over words, it’s not reading, like eyes moving over, say, During the Rains.
Not that I didn’t try. Oh, I tried. Picked up Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust from the local library, a book utterly unavailable in my former Third World abode, which I’d been looking forward to reading for a long time. Couldn’t get into it. Tried Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, which I was forced to read in high school and wanted to come back to as an adult. It didn’t take. Went for Richard Ford’s A Piece of My Heart, which read like Cormac McCarthy For Kids. Nope.
The obvious culprit: wireless internet and a lightweight, non-thigh-scorching laptop spewing out the ceaseless offerings of the google-deity. And a comfy couch. I’d never lived in a place with all three before. I surrendered. Wallowed in mudpits of sweet, sweet information. (Though I never took to tweet-bleating.)
Probably a deeper malaise was at work. Crossing the pond will do that to you, I guess. More on that later, possibly, if ever I get on a confessional jag in these blog parts. Better, it’ll get turned into some stories worth reading.
I use this long prologue by way of introducing Donigan Merritt‘s Possessed by Shadows. This was the book that, a few weeks back, shook me from my stupor. For an excellent full review, I direct you (once again) to Brad Green. He gives the kind of write-up that does this fine book justice.
For my part, I’ll just say that I’ve thought a lot about Possessed by Shadows, and why it grabbed hold of my literary attention span where half a dozen other candidates – and not a ringer in the bunch – failed. I still don’t have a good answer, but I didn’t want to put off writing this post any longer. For one thing, I promised Donigan Merritt, who I now have the excellent good fortune to be in contact with and who is a regular EE commenter, that I would. For another, a day that goes by when you aren’t reaching for Possessed by Shadows is a day you’re squandering. I can’t pin down just what it is Possessed by Shadows has. But it has it in spades.
Merritt pulls off the very tricky trick of writing about a foreign locale without being either smugly knowlegeable or all guidebooky. Is Bratislava, Slovakia a place you’re dying to know about? Me neither. But Merritt makes Iron Curtain-era Czechoslovakia a grayly fascinating place, while sparing us the Wiki-isms a lot of writers insert like they’re being graded on it. He also writes compellingly about rock climbing, another topic in which I am marginally interested at best. Same rules apply: no needless trivia, no constant assertion of authorial authority.
All this is to say nothing of the finely fluid writing and the carefully etched characters. The opening scene on a California rockface will set your heart to going, so that you won’t even mind that one of the main characters gets cancer.
Possessed by Shadows is not without its flaws. The plotline is a touch hackneyed. (Come on: cancer?) But that just shows how extraordinary this book is: I was utterly absorbed anyway. Read the whole thing in two, two and a half sittings. This is what books are supposed to do to you. Grab you by the spinal cord. Now, thanks to Mr. Merritt, I’m neck-deep in half a dozen books and willingly, gladly, regularly, setting aside the laptop. I’m not able to offer up much better praise than that.
Click on the book cover to support Donigan Merritt’s literary efforts. And do check out his blog for updates on what’s coming down his literary pike.