Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Couple of Reader Observations

crankMy book club, I have to admit, is a picky group.

In fact, I don’t believe I can recall attending a single meeting  where the group was in agreement.  Usually, the group is divided between folks who liked a book and disliked it.  Frequently, actually, my book club could be divided into folks who loved a book and hated it.

On Thursday, though, amazingly, they all enjoyed the same book—Crank

If you haven’t read it, Crank is usually classified as a YA book.  It’s not a lighthearted read…it covers a life being destroyed by meth.

So why would a group of  suburban women from age 35—50 enjoy the book so much?

From what I picked up from the individual comments, it was the author’s astonishingly unique approach (the book is written in poetic form, but as a narrative.  The columns could all be read more than one way)  and the fact that they felt it could happen to them…that their normal, high-performing, soccer-playing child could be consumed by the same monster that consumed the teenager in the book.

The teenager in the book was a straight-A high school junior who was completely transformed.

The conversation on the typesetting alone lasted about twenty minutes.  And you’d have to see it to believe it—absolutely brilliant.  I imagine that the book must have cost a mint for the publisher to produce—only few words on each page and a lot of pages.

I think the publisher knew it was going to be a huge hit.  It became a bestselling—a book of poetry.  That’s like a musical becoming a Hollywood blockbuster.

What was interesting to me, as a writer, was that this book club meeting dragged on way past my bedtime. :)  These women weren’t going anywhere.  They talked and talked about the book.  They worried about their children.  They blamed the mother in the book, then forgave her.

Although I don’t write cautionary tales, I’m always very interested in what strikes a chord with readers.  Y’all know that I keep an eye on the market too, but this is a little different.  This is writing with the reader in mind.

I know I couldn’t pull off a book like Crank, nor would I want to—because it’s been done so successfully already. 

But I like the idea of creating situations where readers say “this could happen to me.”  Something that pulls them into the story and makes them feel as if it was happening to them.  Of a troubled protagonist who is deeply flawed. None of those women in that room had experience with the dark underbelly of the drug world.  But it struck a chord with all of them.  They became empathetic with the drug-addicted teenager in the book.

None of them blamed the girl in the book.  And I think, to create such a deeply flawed protagonist, we’d have to set it up so the character still comes off as sympathetic—more a victim of circumstances.  And that’s a tricky balance: having a sympathetic protagonist who the reader won’t lose respect for—even though their actions are irresponsible or even dangerous.

Have you ever pulled off a character with huge personality flaws?  Do you enjoy reading these types of characters?