Taking a break recently from my own writing, I’ve been giving considerable thought as to what makes a good book. In thinking of the classics and some recent books I’ve read, the common thread seems to be the intimacy of their stories.
But what makes a story intimate and therefore compelling? It’s not necessarily sex, though the runaway hit, Fifty Shades of Grey, certainly had lots of that. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the adjective, intimate as “of a very personal or private nature”. When a book reveals the inner life of a character, his or her private thoughts and behaviors, I hang on for the journey. A human struggle is always compelling, and because of its humanness, familiar and relatable.
The following recent reads hit a nerve. Each one made me care about its characters. As they struggled to make sense of their lives, I reflected on my own and became richer for it.
The Cure For Death By Lightning is a coming of age story, set on a farm in the interior of British Columbia during World War II. Weaving in characters from a neighboring First Nations reserve, the author, Gail Anderson-Dargatz, takes us on a young girl’s intimate journey. We watch her struggle in a family on the edge of insanity. We see how her imagination fuels her fears of living in a place with coyotes at every turn. And we feel for her as she grapples with sexual matters both inside and outside her family.
The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller intrigued me as it’s a story of two women who end up living next door to one another and thereby get entangled in one another’s business. One is young and newly married, the other old and wedded for decades. Their intimate stories resonate with us long after the book’s been closed. By focusing on only a few characters, the author plumbs the depths of human emotion and makes us care. She engages us in the characters’ conflicts and in so doing, our own intimate stories are triggered in the reading.
Truths I Learned From Sam by Kristin Butcher is a Y/A book that should have a wider audience. It’s a book about a family secret—and what is more intimate than that? Dani, 17 yrs., on the threshold of womanhood has an unexpected adventure that leads her to discover not only more of her own history but also that of her mother’s. This novel is funny, heartwarming and sad, like life itself. As Dani learns truths from Sam, an uncle she didn’t know existed, she discovers the many facets of love.
All of the above are intimate stories, and therefore good books. I’d love to hear what stories still resonated with you long after you’d finished reading them.