I’m something like eight books away from my arbitrary 42 book goal for this year. This isn’t going to be my usual list but more of a dissection of what I’ve been reading most recently.
So, I started reading The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman on September 12th. I’m 5% in. For those who haven’t heard of this book, here’s the blurb via Goodreads:
A post-apocalyptic literary epic in the tradition of The Handmaid’s Tale, Divergent and Cloud Atlas, and a breakout book in North America for a writer of rare and unconventional talent.
From Guardian First Book Award finalist Sandra Newman comes an ambitious and extraordinary novel of a future in which bands of children and teens survive on the detritus–physical and cultural–of a collapsed America. When her brother is struck down by Posies–a contagion that has killed everyone by their late teens for generations–fifteen-year-old Ice Cream Star pursues the rumour of a cure and sets out on a quest to save him, her tribe and what’s left of their future. Along the way she faces broken hearts and family tragedy, mortal danger and all-out war–and much growing up for the girl who may have led herself and everyone she loves to their doom.
The plot isn’t unfamiliar–it’s straight-up post-apocalytic, pandemic, dystopian. Right? But Ice Cream Star is written in a truly unique style: you can check out the beginning of Chapter One here.
Go on. Read it. I’ll wait.
On the extreme other hand, I’ve also just finished (after 2 days of feverishly reading) The Girl on The Train. Perfectly contemporary, no dialect to unpack, just a mystery that unspools as you go along, very flawed characters dealing with very real-world problems and relationships.
Neither of these works are what I would call my “typical reading”–if I even have such a thing these days–but is it just the dialect that’s caused me to stall on Ice Cream Star?
To be completely honest, I’ve gotten used to parts of the dialect already, even at 5% in and I understand the ‘why’ of why Newman wrote it this way (I think), but it’s distancing to me. I can’t read this book for long periods of time because my head starts aching. I’m not sure that I empathize with Ice Cream Star because I’m sure that there are certain things I’m not picking up.
Girl on the Train? Is it the best written thing I’ve ever read? No. Was it absorbing in a soap opera kind of way? Yes. Was I able to connect and understand the three female narrators, all of whom are flawed? Yes.
For me, it goes back to one of the fundamental arguments I’ve had with myself as a writer. Do I want to do something super high-minded that might be considered prestigious and literary, but can’t or won’t be read or understood? Or do I want to write something simpler that’s entertaining that will be read?
At the very least, I hope to not induce headaches in readers.
I’m pretty sure Pearl is too short to get up to headache level.