Revisiting first novels

books

After a novel has had tremendous success, readers often seek out the author’s first books, which for whatever reason, escaped notice when originally released.

More than a decade before The Art of Racing in the Rain became a New York Times Bestseller, Garth Stein published Raven Stole the Moon. The jacket summary intrigued me: a Seattle woman grieving the loss of her five-year-old son returns to her ancestral hometown in Alaska where she is confronted by Tlingit spirits. In the afterword, Stein confesses that when the book was reprinted in 2010, the only thing he wanted to change was the overuse of swear words.

I wanted to enjoy Raven Stole the Moon more than I did. I didn’t relate to main character Jenna as much as I related to the dog narrator of The Art of Racing in the Rain. Sometimes male writers have trouble realistically creating female characters (and vice versa, I’m sure). In some ways, the plot was predictable and both Jenna and her husband’s choices irritated me. The supernatural aspects to the story didn’t quite work for me either.

I expected to be similarly underwhelmed by Sharp Objects, the first novel of Gillian Flynn, whose Gone Girl was the psychological thriller of 2012. Instead, I found Sharp Objects to be the more satisfying of the two. Another very dark thriller, Sharp Objects is about a second-rate newspaper reporter returning to her hometown in Missouri to write about the possible serial murders of two young girls. I didn’t exactly relate to the heroine, Camille Preaker, who has pretty disturbing secrets of her own, but found myself rooting for her even at her batshit craziest.

Both books contained one sentence too many on the jacket summaries, telling me more than I needed to know before beginning the books. This is why I hardly ever read back covers before starting a book anymore. For example, the first nine words of the summary for Sharp Objects give something away that isn’t revealed until page 60 of the book.