Monday, September 6, 2010

Books That Make Me Turn Back and Re-Read

Every once in a while, when I finish a book, I know I am not finished with the book. Sometimes I will finish a novel right before I go to sleep, and in the morning, I feel compelled to re-read the ending, to be sure what I think happened really happened. I did it with Ann Patchett's Bel Canto and with Charles Frasier's Cold Mountain. Sometimes the ending makes me turn back and read the beginning. At the end of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, I suddenly remembered the beginning, set in a different place and time and realized just why it was there. I did the same with one of the most intriguing YA novels, Robert Cormier's I Am the Cheese, a book that blew me away with its ending, forcing me to go back to find the clues, the foreshadowing I had missed.

I finished Adam Ross's novel Mr. Peanut this week, and after letting the story percolate in my brain awhile, I know I have to go back and read the last few chapters. The main thread of the story, the death of David Pepin's wife Alice, from what seems an allergic reaction to a peanut, is interwoven with the family stories of the two detectives investigating him--Hastrol, whose wife Hannah has taken to her bed and refuses to leave it, and Sam Shepard (yes, that Sam Shepard), working for the police department after being released from prison on charges of killing his wife.

Ross moves from the main story--the Pepins--to Hastrol and Shepard--in ways that make a reader forget the other stories exist--until he throws in a small detail that echoes what's happening in the other two story lines. To reinforce the circular nature of the story, he adds an antagonist who goes only my the name of Mr. Mobius, and he has the Pepins meeting in a college elective that studies Hitchcock films and marriage. The professor's explanation of the MacGuffin seems to be more than a minor detail, but perhaps a clue to the way his narrative plays out.

The added detail that Pepin is writing a novel (whose main characters are David Pepin and his wife Laura) add to the web that will probably require a second reading just to discover the undergirding of the story that was there all along as I moved through the plot.

Ross has pulled off quite a feat in his structure of the novel, pulling the reader into whichever story he tells at the time, shifting perspectives within the stories, then leaving the reader wondering what just happened. Wondering enough to want to go back and find out--and that is just what I intend to do.


Marie Cloutier said...

Sounds fantastic. I've seen MR PEANUT around and have been intrigued by it. i love the idea of a story undergirding the whole book that you only see at the end; I love intricate structure like that. Thanks for the great review!

Jessie Carty said...

I love that moment, when you finish reading something and you're like WHAT and you have to go back to the start. Love that!