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Aug 5 2011

First Novels – Blind Sight

by Ken M

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

I seem to have this thing about first novels. I read lots of them, often without realizing until I’m into them that they are indeed debuts. That’s been the case recently in my reading life.

Last week I finished Blind Sight by Meg Howrey. This is the story of a seventeen year old boy named Luke, who was raised by his mom and grandmother, both of whom are very spiritual from different perspectives. During the course of the novel, he makes various attempts at a college entrance essay while he visits his famous father in Los Angeles. Having grown up in the east in a very unassuming environment, Luke is immersed in the show business world, and the demands it makes of the father he is just beginning to get to know.

I really enjoyed this one for the most part. I’m drawn to characterization and plot, and this novel satisfies on both those counts. Luke is (for the most part) grounded, mature and very insightful, though he makes his mistakes along the way. The novel is written in a curious mix of first and third person, but this enhanced the novel for me; it caused me to care more about Luke as I began to prefer hearing him speak in his own voice.

The other major players in Luke’s life, his mom and grandmother, his two sisters and (as the novel progresses) his father are all developed in differing degrees, but none seemed sketchy or undeveloped. Each reader will have to decide whether the ending is conclusive enough; having had a little time to reflect, I’m ok with the author’s choice not to tie up every loose end.

Right on the heels of Blind Sight, I picked up David Abbott’s The Upright Piano Player, which I still haven’t finished. I also have this thing about England, so this appeals to me for the British setting. It’s paced differently, almost like a collage of images. The timeline isn’t straight forward, but unlike some novels which jump from one time period to another, this one isn’t annoying me on that front. The main character in this one is a retired man who is coping with loss on various fronts. The novel opens as he is trying to deal with his grief for his beloved grandson, then shifts to an earlier period when he was more recently retired and divorced, and trying to make sense of the unchartered space ahead of him. This one is sad, but it’s holding my interest so far.

So, are you a first novel fan too? What would you recommend? What’s my next reading fix?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg H August 5, 2011 at 1:30 PM

My favorite book ever, EDISTO by Padgett Powell, is a first novel. If I remember correctly, he wrote the novel as his graduate thesis. FISHBOY by Mark Richard is, I believe, a first novel. It’s wildly imaginative, too much so for me to adequately describe. First novels are often lucky finds since the author usually hasn’t attained much notoriety…unless you have a situation like Tom Wolfe’s where he didn’t tackle his first novel until he’d become famous for his nonfiction. Oh, this spring I also read LULU MEETS GOD AND DOUBTS HIM by
Danielle Ganek. It’s a fun novel about the New York art world although what hooked me was the title!

Dea Anne M August 5, 2011 at 2:14 PM

My favorite debut novel ever is probably SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS by Marisha Pessel. It mamages to be both erudite and antertaining. I also remember really liking THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt.

Dea Anne M August 5, 2011 at 2:29 PM

Ooops! I meant manages!

Kimberly HdM August 6, 2011 at 10:35 AM

Last night I finished a wonderful first novel called Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. It’s set in an the late 30’s in Manhattan told in the first person of the (oddly) named Katey Kontent, a New York native secretary whose life takes unexpected turns as circumstances and her own resourcefulness throw her into the society of bright young things at the heart of the moneyed elite. It reminded me of Woody Allen’s film “Midnight in Paris”– with an idealized look back to a time when a city captured the intense artistic shifts and changes.

Like Dea Anne M, I also enjoyed Special Topics In Calamity Physics and the Secret History. Both authors are scheduled to have books out in 2012.

Jesse M August 6, 2011 at 11:56 AM

One of my favorite debut novels of all time is FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahniuk. After his initial attempts at publication were rejected (one of which, INVISIBLE MONSTERS, was eventually published in 1999) by agents and publishers for being too disturbing, Palahniuk started work on what would eventually become FIGHT CLUB, intending it to be even more disturbing. Publishers decided to take a chance on his work, and it was eventually adapted into the cult film of the same name. FIGHT CLUB is smart, hip, and very dark, and a must read for fans of Palahniuk’s other work, or of transgressive fiction generally.

Ken M August 8, 2011 at 4:39 PM

Just finished The Upright Piano Player. Its timeline is not as fragmented as I initially thought. Not an upbeat read for the most part, but I found it consistently engaging and not depressing. It’s not overlong, and very moving at times. I found an interesting interview with the author on the web, in which he defended his placing the end of the novel (the later period) at the beginning. I have to say, I agree with that decision. It makes the book much stronger. I’ll be curious to see what his second novel is like.

Greg H August 11, 2011 at 10:17 AM

I didn’t realize that FIGHT CLUB was a first novel. Or that it was an example of transgressive fiction! I don’t think that category existed when I was in college but I’ll definitely look into it now.

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