Monday, May 01, 2006

Coming down the mountain

I so like happy surprises and The Wall by Jeff Long, was a happy surprise. I wasn't too keen on his recent efforts, but I thought this one was quite good. This was one of the rare books that can make interesting a subject that is normally of only middling interest. Like Positively Fifth Street did for poker, this one made extreme rock climbing interesting. The plot is simple, two men fleeing ending or ended relationships return to Yosemite's El Capitan (the photo nicely illustrates the challenge) to recapture their youth. Yes, I can imagine every female reading this is rolling her eyes. Anyway it worked for me for two reasons. Long keeps the action quick and moving and focuses on the inherent tension in climbing a sheer rock wall.

The second reason is that he limited his jargon so he could communicate the action without a lot of extra exposition. He used technical terms but in such a way that you could figure out what was going on by context. There are few things that break up a story than multi-sentence explanations of some comment in conversation. Thriller authors are guilty of this all the time. You''ll hear something like "Joe is going to Rome." which will be followed by "Terry thought, Rome, of course, the Eternal City. Founded millennia ago, as myth would have it by two brothers raised by wolves and eventually the center of a great empire...." And so on. I think it is the unnatural nature of this technique that bothers me. If a novel is going to be told in first person, then the text should read like a person talks and thinks and no one thinks in long expository paragraphs. Ok, blowhards might, but blowhards are rarely given the role of first person narrator.

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