two readers, two books: Tassava on Philip Connors

I recently posted my friend Tassava’s review of Philip Connors’s second book, All the Wrong Places. We have now both read & reviewed both of Connors’s books.

(Julia reviews Fire Season; Julia reviews All the Wrong Places. Tassava reviews Fire Season; Tassava reviews All the Wrong Places.)

Of course, the most interesting part of sharing our responses turns out to be our differences. I was so blown over by Fire Season that Places was probably doomed to never live up. The latter was deeply impressive, but not the perfect gem that was the former, for me. Tassava felt the other way around: was very impressed by the first book, but found that Connors had perfected his style with the second.

So I went back, to try and tease out our different reactions.

Is your ranking of All the Wrong Places over Fire Season based on the writing style that you praise? Solely?

Not solely, no.

Long stretches of Fire Season had glowing, wonderful prose. Sections on the wilderness, for instance, stood out. But the more personal writing in Places resonated with me even more. It’s hard (as I’ve learned in my own work) to write well about one’s interior life. To write convincingly and beautifully about it is impressive.

True story. And that leads into my next question. Did the personal nature of All the Wrong Places ever make you uncomfortable? It did me. There was so much pain that I wanted to look away.

Interesting! Some of it was uncomfortable to read (for embarrassment, the sex stuff; for pain, his wondering if his call to Dan could’ve prevented the suicide), but it was so well done that I had to keep reading. And I read it at a time when I really needed to sort of bathe in someone else’s pain.

Ah. Would love to hear more, if you’re willing…

I have a personal situation that I am trying to work out right now, with the question of how much of it is my own fault and how much is outside my control. So his worry or terror at having “caused” or at least not prevented Dan’s suicide resonated with me.

And is, I’m sure, typical of suicide survivors.

Also his efforts to understand it (talking with his parents and others, like Dan’s girlfriend) and to forget it by drinking and fucking and moving around (from job to job and place to place).

Or escape it, rather than forget it.

Oh, sure. I think that has to be a fairly common response – as you said in your review.

Must be.

I hadn’t thought of this as a “self-murder mystery” (love that phrase!), perhaps because an earlier essay I read may have acted as a spoiler for me. Was that suspense and reveal part of your captivation?

Definitely! I hoped that there was a mystery at the core of the story, but assumed that it would be something… different… (edited for spoilers) I wanted to keep reading to find out what that “cause” was, or if it was actually there. I would’ve been satisfied with a story that didn’t end with anything more conclusive than Dan simply being depressed and armed. Oldest story, right?

Right.

It sounds like the personal divulging of Places worked for you and the place that you were personally in when you received it. Whereas my personal reaction as reader was to shy away. But we’re in sync on the stylistic mastery of both books?

Yes, we definitely agree that Connors is a superb stylist, a writer who can sketch the primeval wilderness of New Mexico as beautifully as he can describe the primeval compulsions of a grieving brother.

Last question. Are you going to send my book back to me now?

Yes!

Thanks, buddy. It’s been a pleasure, sharing these two excellent books.

One Response

  1. this is wonderful dialogue you two! well done, both; I trust Philip comes across it eventually, and appreciates the thoughtfulness, sincerity & attention.

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