Nothing turns a writer’s thoughts to what constitutes a good novel than launching a new novel of his own. This weekend I’m launching San Café—about revolution, murder, betrayal and a great cup of coffee. As to how novels are judged—and misjudged—a recent conversation proved revealing.
A friend, who knows literature well, showed me a novel she was reading. It had achieved critical success and doubtless earned the author reasonable financial reward. So I was surprised when my friend revealed, “It took me two hundred pages to get into it. But that’s just me. I have a friend who only needed a hundred pages.”
How, I asked myself, can novelists and publishers succeed when they often dare their readers to become engaged? The literary marketplace seems continually to be flooded with critically acclaimed books that leave me wondering about an “emperor’s new clothes” syndrome. Over the last several months, three novels had me wondering indeed.
A woman long deemed one of America’s great contemporary writers authored the first. My wife liked it, although she said it took a long time to get into it. I failed to take the hint. I started reading. Great opening—for four or five pages. After that, nothing much happened. The story petered out. After slogging through fifty pages, I put it away.
I started another novel, this by a woman hailed as one of today’s great young American writers. The book was nominated for prestigious awards and made the New York Times bestseller list. I began with high hopes. I discovered a distinctive voice, clever language and quirky characters. But where was the conflict? After sixty pages waiting for something to actually happen, I abandoned ship. (My wife didn’t get as far as I did.)
So I started a novel by a man with a solid literary reputation built over more than three decades. Terrific opening. And then…
Aristotle wrote, “Plot is character revealed by action.” Scott Fitzgerald followed up with, “Character is plot, plot is character.” They got it. So, by the way, did Karl Marlantes, author of the justifiably acclaimed Vietnam War novel Matterhorn, which I mentioned last week in “Snake Eyes.”
I hope that with San Café I got it, too. I write satire—San Café is geopolitical satire set in Central America—because I love humor and puncturing pretentions. I also love quirky characters. But most of all, I love telling stories. So I filled San Café, like Slick! before it (same protagonist but set in the Persian Gulf) with interesting twists and turns and lots of surprises.
I invite you to read the first three chapters of San Café at davidperlstein.com. It’s free. Should you want your very own soft-cover or digital copy—this is my blog; I can flog my books all I want—just go to iUniverse.com, Amazon.com or bn.com. You can even see me.
This I promise. You won’t need two hundred pages to get into San Café. And you’ll only have to read 252 pages to get out.
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