Monday, May 16, 2011

ROOM, point of view and emotional intensity

I read the book ROOM this weekend. For those that aren't familiar it's the story of Jack, a five year old boy who has spent his entire life with his Ma, in a 12 by 12 foot garden shed, kept prisoner by his mother's kidnapper and rapist.

Everyone who'd read this book says it's uplifting and as I typed that sentence above I'm amazed yet again by how uplifting it truly was. And at the same time what was terrifying and sad about the book - which for the most part is inferred, or revealed sideways or happens to some extent off page - has taken over my life for the last twenty-four hours. And the tool the incredible author uses to create the uplifting and the terrifying is the same damn tool - POV.

Jack loves his mom. This is the only world he's ever known, she has chosen not to tell him that there is an outside. He is content. Happy. We get page long descriptions of how and why he loves Dora The Explorer. (Something Ma uses when it's time to make their escape - effing brilliant.)

So, the world is dramatic but the emotion and drama are dialed down because our POV character is really so happy, but that made the moments that were dramatic - the escape and a few others I don't want to spoil - so terrifying I had to skim them. But because there's this whole other story - Ma's - hinted at, and revealed in parts by Jack, my imagination has been going crazy putting together those pieces, imagining her story.

I remember something Laura Kinsale said about taking the emotions out of the big emotional scenes - and I so agree with this (but can never seem to do it, because I'm a more is more kind of writer) if you've done your job those big scenes, the big heartbreaks - they're there without any words and a lot of times that's more effective than bashing a reader over the head.

Head on emotional writing feels old to me right now, I'm a little tired of finding other words for 'pain.' But showing the big emotional scenes through the corner of a character's eyes, on the fringes, there but secondary and sometimes so totally opposite to the day to day reality of that character - also an amazing way to play it.


Eileen said...

I have not wanted to read ROOM. I wasn't sure I could handle it. You're making me rethink. It is amazing what something like choosing the right POV can do to a scene or a chapter or a book. To choose the child's POV for a whole book is incredibly brave and might require a sturdier pair of ovaries than I possess.

Molly O'Keefe said...

oh - it's tough eileen - today I look like I've been punched in the face from crying for like 12 hours.

But I've been thinking about it all day about how the right POV tells 2 stories - the pov character's story and the story of the person they love, or hate - it's not just about observation which is what I always thought it was - it's that emotional connection that allows pov to tell two stories. amazing book.

Maureen McGowan said...

Sturdy ovaries. Snort.

Maureen McGowan said...

You are some fast reader Molly. I gave you that book on Saturday night!

I need to spend a day just reading, I think. And not my own freaking book. I was up until 4:30 am last night proofreading my manuscript.

Today it's doing a dozen interviews. Tomorrow. My roots. I can read at the hairdressers. :)

Eileen said...

It so often comes back to those basics, doesn't it? Every time I think I know what I'm doing with POV or setting or anything else, something comes along to school me.

Stephanie Doyle said...

I could not even contemplate reading a book like this.

Soooo... someone is going to have find for me a book that teaches me the lesson without making me cry buckets.

Feel free for any one of you to write this for me. :)

Maureen McGowan said...

The other night when I was talking to Sinead, she had an idea about turning the standard POV thing on it's heard, too... And it sounds like in the same way that ROOM does. Maybe that's where she got the idea. Need to read this book, now.

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