I mean that—everything is fiction. When you tell yourself the story of your life, the story of your day, you edit and rewrite and weave a narrative out of a collection of random experiences and events. Your conversations are fiction. Your friends and loved ones—they are characters you have created. And your arguments with them are like meetings with an editor—please, they beseech you, you beseech them, rewrite me. You have a perception of the way things are, and you impose it on your memory, and in this way you think, in the same way that I think, that you are living something that is describable. When of course, what we actually live, what we actually experience—with our senses and our nerves—is a vast, absurd, beautiful, ridiculous chaos.
— Keith Ridgway, “Everything is Fiction,” featured in The New Yorker, 8/8/2012
There are a lot of things I just really don’t do.
I don’t drink tea. I don’t run 5k races. I don’t read much fiction.
(Not fiction that actually calls itself that, anyway.)
And I don’t usually write book reviews. I leave that to the Glynn Youngs of the world who do it so well.
But now and again, a good enough reason comes along for most things that we might be tempted to make an exception. L.L. Barkat and her foray into fiction pose just such a temptation for me. I’ve read The Novelist three times–for all kinds of reasons, perhaps, but the most obvious is that it’s just that good.
Good enough to convince me to read fiction, and good enough to write a review.
The Novelist’s main character describes her relationship with a poet friend as “more of a thing and less of a thing,” saying that “to express it this way made no sense, yet it made perfect sense to Laura.” This powerful intertwining of seeming dichotomies characterizes the narrative of L.L. Barkat’s debut fiction release, published by T.S. Poetry Press.
Laura, an ad copy writer who’s never finished even a short story, is challenged by an acquaintance on Twitter to write a novel in an impossibly short time. Along the way, she embarks on a process of discovering herself, the strength of her own center, and the power of both yes and no.
Barkat seamlessly weaves a compelling plot with alluring poetry, truth with fiction, and even profound micro-studies in relationships and the writing craft itself. Readers of Barkat’s previous books will find The Novelist a departure from her earlier work, not simply in genre, but also in what they think they know of the author. In an intriguing sense fitting for the story itself, the transition feels subtle, as though the unexpected comes to be in a very expected sort of way.
The Novelist is the sort of book that leaves you tempted to let the water boil away on the stove while you read just one more page, until you find yourself unexpectedly at THE END. Which, of course, is where the book began. I highly recommend starting there, and reading it again, and again.
Am I partial? You bet I am. The author is a dear friend and my managing editor. But come on. If I didn’t think it was a wonderful book, I just wouldn’t write the review. I don’t write them, remember?
T.S. Poetry Press is the award-winning publisher of The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry, which was an Oprah Magazine Best Beach Read selection, Rumors of Water by L.L. Barkat, and the upcoming release Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior.