What I’m Reading: Divergent, by Veronica Roth

I aim an uppercut low, below her bellybutton. My fist sinks into her flesh, forcing a heavy breath from her mouth that I feel against my ear. As she gasps, I sweep-kick her legs out from under her, and she falls hard on the ground, sending dust into the air. I pull my foot back and kick as hard as I can at her ribs.

My mother and father would not approve of my kicking someone when she’s down.

I don’t care.

She curls into a ball to protect her side, and I kick again, this time hitting her in the stomach. Like a child. I kick again, this time hitting her in the face. Blood springs from her nose and spreads over her face. Look at her. Another kick hits her in the chest.

I pull my foot back again, but Four’s hands clamp around my arms, and he pulls me away from her with irresistable force. I breathe through gritted teeth, staring at Molly’s blood-covered face, the color deep and rich and beautiful, in a way.

I’m interested to hear what other people thought of this book. It’s supposed to be the next The Hunger Games; a movie is coming out next year.

I enjoyed it. I’m about 30 pages from finishing, and I don’t bother finishing books that I’m not enjoying. There’s just so much that I want to pick apart, though. And the excerpt I posted above, where Tris, the main character, relishes brutalizing a girl she’s set up against to fight? You might think that’s a momentary lapse, or a character flaw she will be forced to confront and reconcile later, but no: the book glorifies violence and mindless bravado throughout. There is more to come from this series, with hints at evolution to come (of both Tris and the dystopian society she inhabits), so I’ll reserve judgment for now. But like I said: so much I want to pick apart.

Lines I Love: Agatha Christie

Lines I Love

Favorite quotes from my favorite books.

“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.” (Murder on the Orient Express)

“Everything must be taken into account. If the fact will not fit the theory—let the theory go.” (The Mysterious Affair at Styles)

“Every murderer is probably somebody’s old friend.” (The Mysterious Affair at Styles)

“Words, madmoiselle, are only the outer clothing of ideas.” (The ABC Murders)

“The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.” (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)

“It had come about ex­act­ly in the way things hap­pened in books.” (And Then There Were None)

“A woman who doesn’t lie is a woman without imagination and without sympathy.” (Murder in Mesopotamia)

“I’m sorry, but I do hate this differentiation between the sexes. ‘The modern girl has a thoroughly businesslike attitude to life’ That sort of thing. It’s not a bit true! Some girls are businesslike and some aren’t. Some men are sentimental and muddle-headed, others are clear-headed and logical. There are just different types of brains.” (Appointment With Death)

“What I feel is that if one has got to have a murder actually happening in one’s house, one might as well enjoy it, if you know what I mean.” (The Body in the Library)

Unfinished Stories: In a Graveyard

I love graveyards: as a history buff, and as a fan of the macabre. I don’t mean the new, modern cemeteries that look like golf courses, all flat mowed grass, no trees, no proper headstones or statues. The old ones, with all their beautiful statuary and memento mori epitaphs.

Recently, I rode my bike out to a local historic graveyard to have a wander around. It’s nice to see my little city has some actual history beyond it’s benign facade of suburban sprawl. Actually, I need to go out there more often, because the place is full of writerly inspiration.

Such as these headstones:

Each belongs to a wife whose husband is buried there. Why no date? What happened? Where was she buried in the end? Was there no one left to pay the engravers to place the date of her death on the stone? (Or are Mary and Maude 100+ year-old vampires, stalking the graveyard and seducing victims to their unholy purpose?)

I wonder.

“And they were all miserable. The end.”

In a discussion about genre fiction in my writers’ group, a romance writer listed her qualifications for a work that fits under the umbrella of “romance”. There were only a few guidelines: the story must focus on a romantic relationship of some sort, and it must end happily. I don’t know why, but that last qualification surprised me. I’ve read quite a few romance novels, but I don’t write in the genre, and I’ve certainly never tried to sell anything in the category of romance. It must end happily? It must?

“What would a story that focuses on a romantic relationship but doesn’t end happily be called?” I asked.

Her answer: “something else”. (I’m convinced that there is such a thing as a “tragic romance”, but I do believe my friend is right that it would not be sold under the modern classifcation of “romance”.)

I suppose that’s why I don’t write romance: my brain doesn’t default to “happily ever after”. Sure, I like to read happy endings (at times, I crave them!) but the ideas that come to me when I write so seldom lend themself to walking off into the sunset. In fact, my endings hardly resolve anything at all:

-a girl leaves the only stability and familiarity she’s found in a world gone mad to follow a man she’s not sure she knows anymore…

-a woman reflects sadly on a love that’s now lost through all of time…

-a man is resigned to his fate…

This is how my stories tend to end: ambiguously. (And just a bit depressingly…) There may be hope, or the promise of a better life ahead, but the story always ends before that point is reached. Even if I picture my characters happy in their futures, it never occurs to me to show it: I always leave them at that fork in the road, without any hint of which turn they’ll take.

I appreciate this tactic in stories I read: to me, the more interesting part of the tale is not always the resolution, but rather, the key decisions that lead to the resolution. The real struggle is not in slaying the dragon, but rather in deciding you’re going to try. (After all, how does one conjure that amazing mixture of arrogance, bravery, and stupidity that leads them to believe they can take on a magical fire-breathing creature many times their size and win?)

Of course, now that I’ve noticed my failure to write happy endings, I’m going to have to give them a try. (It’s a gaping hole in repertoire, and it needs to be filled!)

But tell me, gentlefolk: do you like tragic endings, or would you prefer them to be happy? Does it not matter as long as things are wrapped up and resolved? Do you like it when the author leaves things ambiguous?

It’s time to die!

How to Kill a Character, @ omnivoracious.

I can’t say that I’ve ever killed off a character: but after reading that article, I’m kind of itching to! I’ve certainly done plenty of other evil, unpleasant things to my characters: death just seems like the next logical step.

While I myself don’t find death to be any sadder or more shocking than any number of tragic or terrible things that could happen in a story, the taboo of character death certainly makes one stand up and take notice when it happens. The death of a beloved character is almost always memorable.

Some of the ones I remember include:

  • Beth from Little Women (I have to admit: I sobbed over that one!)
  • Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby
  • Paul Atreides from the Dune series
  • Romeo and Juliet from Romeo & Juliet
  • Almost everybody in Hamlet (I’m beginning to think including Shakespeare is cheating…)
  • Winston Smith from 1984
  • Phineas from A Separate Peace (Ok, I cried over this one, too…)
  • Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights

Which have I forgotten? Which literary deaths were most memorable for you?