Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Wink at Alison Anderson’s "Darwin’s Wink"

Molly Giles, author of Iron Shoes and other fiction, described Anderson’s novel as “A love story, a war story, an ecological adventure, a biological poem, and a treatise on the fragility of life—Darwin’s Wink has it all..... Like the elusive, bejeweled mourning bird it celebrates, this book will waken its readers to unexpected wonders.”

Anderson’s novel is indeed exquisite, with wonderful tension in terms of danger as well as philosophy and morality. Yet not plot but idiosyncratic character and theme drive its momentum. That isn’t a recipe for everyone, and most writers are better off using quotation marks though not italics (especially inconsistent ones).

Still, this book offers numerous lessons, both Darwinian and otherwise, to every writer.

~ Omniscient point of view.
Anderson clearly but gracefully shifts perspective. This is difficult to execute, and she models both how to do it and why it’s worth the struggle.

~ Characterization.
Writers are often drawn to unappealing characters but then stuck with fiction that turns readers off. The blend of vulnerability and chutzpah that infuses all of Anderson’s characters is among the best strategies for counteracting the malaise of wounded characters.

~ Dialogue
With or without quotation marks, it’s tricky to have characters argue philosophy and sound both convincing and intriguing. This novel does that over and over.

~ Originality
Too many novels feel as you’ve already read something just like this. Here, though, the island is not only a place where you’ve never been, inhabited by people (and  birds) you’ve probably never even imagined, yet somehow evocative of the best fiction about islands, scientists, quests, dreams, and biology. Startling yet familiar. What could be better?

~ Plot as microcosm of theme.
These characters struggle with compassion versus necessity. How does being a human animal differ from being another animal? Should only the fittest survive?

Tip: Become a “fitter” writer by scrutinizing novels that epitomize your goals for your own.

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