Usually I’m what you might call a novelistic serial monogamist. But while on vacation at a Maine cottage with no electricity, I spent several delicious afternoons settled in on the porch with an actual paperback. Once darkness fell, I curled up in bed with another on my self-lit iPad.
It wasn’t until I was deep into both books that it occurred to me how similar they were—at least on the surface. Both are 2023 novels that could be elevator-pitched as “a story about a woman in her 50s who’s forced to finally confront a very bad teenaged memory.” Both main characters have lifelong best friends, as well as a love interest who could be described as “the one who got away.” Both take place “now.” And—for the writers who notice such things—both are written in today’s popular present tense.
One other more personal commonality: I’ve met both authors and have devoured many of their previous books. So I knew before I even cracked open either the paper cover or the virtual one that they would take me to other worlds but end on a positive note; perfect vacation reads.
I hopscotched happily between the two stories over several days, losing myself in someone else’s hard work. It was only after I finished both (on the very same afternoon/evening) that I realized: I never once mixed up the characters and details of each. Oh, to write like that!
Two years ago, in Voice: I Know It When I See It, I shared my realization that “The books I finish always have a strong voice… Without a personality to hold it all together, my mind begins to wander and I soon put down the story.” Two years before that, I wrote about authorial voice. Both skills factored into making these two stories distinct and memorable.
If you’re curious about the specifics (or just hungry for two great novels), I’ll publish reviews of each very soon. But for now, here’s my big writerly lesson from a week of novelistic two-timing: each of our stories is unique, even when a general description might seem depressingly similar to other books already in print.
How about you, do you read novels one at a time? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or send me an email. I read every single one, with gratitude.