Read This Book, and other literary thoughts

So, this is interesting. It turns out that David Benioff has written one of the best novels of the last ten years.

Helly, maybe two of ’em.

David Benioff, if you’ve never heard of him before – I hadn’t – wrote the book The 25th Hour, which was turned into a movie starring Ed Norton Jr., Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tony Siragusa, Rosario Dawson, and a bunch of other folks about a white dude who gets busted for being a major heroin dealer and has one night out with his friends, father, and special lady before going up the river for the next ten years. Spike Lee directed it; it’s one of the better pictures of the winter ’02/’03 season and if you’ve not seen it, it’s worth renting. Or buying.

But I digress.

On a whim, I picked up his new book, City Of Thieves, at the Penn Station bookstore when I was coming back home from Philadelphia last Saturday. I started it Sunday aftenroon – on Father’s Day – and finished it that evening. Couldn’t put the gem down. It was that good.

What I’m saying is that the City Of Thieves is damn fine, and worth reading. It’s about a pair of convicts who have to finagle a dozen eggs in a war-ravaged St. Petersburg, or else be executed by the army. I’m not going to go into the details of the book, beyond that, save to say that it operates on a temporal twist: the story starts in the present, goes deeply into the past, and then at the very end, brings it all together and shows you how historical shaped the present into what it is.

I think that this literary technique – writing a book in which the meat of the story takes place in the past, and peppering it with the aha! sensibility afforded by first introducing the affected characters in the present – can actually work quite well. It can come off as trite, but in skilled hands, it works well. Water For Elephants does it, too; I just read that a few weeks ago and I loved that as well.

This back-to-the-future thing, it’s a neat technique. Something to think about.

Other things I like: setting protagonist and foil in opposition to each other. (duh). I am also finding that I enjoy the tool of a (necessary?) sacrifice of a compatriot character at the denoument to allow the protagonist the right/ability to change to be a useful one.

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