Okay, so I finish the book and sit there stunned. WOW! And for a fleeting moment I have this rush, as if I’ve actually discovered a great talent. Then I read on and find out that “Before I Fall” was a New York Times Bestseller. As one of Lauren Oliver’s characters may have said: DUH.
The book is brilliant. First, it is a morality play, a Pilgrim’s Progress for the entitled. Sam’s journey is not completed on one road, but on a half dozen that must be traversed before she ‘gets it right’. And her friends, ‘bitches’ all, still have redeeming qualities, or at least aspects of their behaviors that provide an explanation for how they came to be who they are. One is burdened by insecurity and guilt, another likes to cook, of all things!
But I’m sure all of this and more has been said. So, being an author myself, I’d like to make a comment about style. Lauren is a master of tropes. Her imagery is original and viscerally arresting, even when not pure metaphor—–“the classroom folds in two and all of the distance disappears between us.” Most prose authors struggle with figures of speech. Tropes are more the province of poets. I always carry around a copy of ‘Ariel’ by Sylvia Plath (my all time free verse fave) for inspiration. But few of us pull it off well, and infrequently at best. John Cheever and Barbara Kingsolver come to mind as masters.
My only quibbles are that she does it so well she uses one trope, simile, to excess. Toward the end of “Before I Fall,” they start coming fast and furious. It’s almost exhausting, kind of like Tom Robbins’ humor. And she telegraphs the simile with the omnipresent ‘like’:
“The house smells like polished wood and rain, and just a little bit like chimney smoke, like someone’s recently had a fire.”
“The house smells of polished wood and rain and a bit of chimney smoke, as if someone’s recently had a fire.”
She does not use the simile preposition, ‘like’, all of the time but will sometimes let the image speak for itself without a marker.
This is better:
…she says, “balled up tissues, which I left floating in the toilet…little blooming flowers of pink.” still a simile but without the neon sign ‘like’.
Okay, enough. One thing I loved in her essay ‘My Greatest Hits’ was the ‘crazy confession’ that she never totally understood Sam’s statement that ‘certain things go on forever’. Lauren said that “it sounds insane, but I didn’t totally understand it.”
Believe it or not, we authors do write things we don’t totally understand. In Sun Valley Moon Mountains, a beautiful Fish, a trout, appears three times; and I even drop out of POV and write in 3rd person omniscient.
What is the Fish? Is it important? YES. Do I really know what it is? NO. Go figure.