Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
A Must-Read Debut Novel
The print book is a reader's dream: just the right length, a cover you can keep turning back to, finding meaning in each detail. And nice paper! Not that rough cheap stuff but pages with a good feel to them, a sensual pleasure to hold and read. I was thrilled that an ARC was available in print version.
The writing is deep and beautiful, with imagery and details that make the characters come alive and move the narrative along seamlessly. Bell writes literary fiction, but don't let that stop you. I realize that some literary writing is self-conscious, overdone, lacking in plot and well, just plain dull. Not this book! String Bridge has a strong narrative that kept me turning pages to see what happens next with Melody and Alex, the troubled couple living in Athens, raising a precocious and adorable (omigosh she is so dang cute!) little girl named Tessa.
Woven through the relationship between Melody and Alex is the complex relationship that Melody has with her bipolar mother, and the fears that she will become like her own mother and do irreparable damage to Tessa. In fact, Melody is so afraid of being hurt by those she loves that she effectively creates barriers to protect herself. It's not until tragedy strikes that Melody begins to understand how very much she did love and was loved in return.
The last novel that moved me and engaged me to this extent was Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. Like Conroy, Jessica Bell is a brilliant writer of great skill and depth. She doesn't pull back from the difficult scenes, from conflict, pain, intensity. She puts it all out there, no holds barred, no holding back. She knows how to craft a scene, how to develop character, how to create suspense. This is an absolutely brilliant debut novel. I look forward to reading her next novel, and next and next.