I spent the first week of my enforced homestay on the sofa, re-reading Jenny Crusie. I picked Agnes and the Hitman, followed by Fast Women. Angry heroines, laconic heroes with just the right skill-set, a dazzling array of secondary characters, terrific dialogue, and murder. Just what I wanted. No softness, lots of snark and action. Edgy stories tinged with darkness and humor, and a heroine with agency who fights her way to a happy ending, for herself and everyone she cares about. Very cathartic.
Then last week, between obsessively reading the news and completing a fiendishly tricky jigsaw puzzle with an underwater fantasy scene featuring strange fish, steampunk machines, grandiose ruins and Pre-Raphaelite mermaids, I revisited MR Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts.
That was a dark choice, given that the book is post-apocalyptic sci-fi, set in a future England where civilization as we know it was wiped out by a virus that turned most people into hungries—brain-dead, decaying, cannibalistic zombies. Only a few pockets of humanity survive, and a group of mysterious children who live in a sort-of school under heavily armed guard. Superficially this is so not my kind of book, but the friend who gave it to me promised I would enjoy it, and he was right. Apart from the subject matter, this book could be a Crusie. It passes every craft test taught to us by Jenny. The heroine, Melanie, the smartest of the children, is compelling. The author makes you care deeply about her, and the stakes start high and get higher. The secondary characters—one teacher, one scientist, two soldiers—are all credible and have their own arc. All the turning points work. The internal and external plots are tightly tied together, all the way to the excellent and inevitable ending. It’s another Jenny-trick—after I read the end, I went back to the opening scene to see whether the author made the right story promise and fulfilled it. Yep. Nailed it.
I’ve posted in the past about Dr Jennifer Barnes, a psychologist, cognitive scientist, and YA romance author (click here to read about Id Lists). Yesterday, as I was wondering what to read next, I remembered her workshop called The Romance Writers Guide to the Psychology of Fiction. I’m pretty sure she said one academic theory is that fiction provides us with a safe space to work out how to deal with real-world problems and to role play potential future scenarios.
Huh. I thought I’d been taking a break from reality. The alternative explanation is that my Girls in the Basement have vented their frustrations at the state of the world, taken a time out to recalibrate, and have now begun to adapt to our new normal by planning for the zombie apocalypse.
Really hoping it’s the former 😉
I still haven’t decided what to read next. I started another jigsaw instead.
So what kind of fiction have you been reading/watching lately?