Monday, October 02, 2006

Blinded--a Novel by Travis Thrasher

So who took the plunge and read it?

From the back cover: Alone in New York City, Michael meets Jasmine, a mysterious, captivating woman. Soon he realizes that her confident exterior masks a troubled life, and his involvement could threaten the foundations of his boring—but suddenly precious—suburban existence. Is anyone watching as Michael follows Jasmine into danger? Does anyone care?

BC’s version: Michael, sick from losing a big business opportunity in New York City, nurses a drink in the late afternoon. Tomorrow morning he’ll fly home to Lisa, his wife. Michael and Lisa are having marital troubles. Enter Jasmine, young, beautiful, and yes, mysterious. She flirts with Michael, gives him her phone number. She’s out to show him a fun evening—what’s wrong with that? Of course he won’t call. He’s a married man—one who’s never even come close to cheating on his wife.

Then, of course, he does. And the fun begins.

I googled the title to read online reviews. I wanted to see how many mentioned the fact the it’s written in second person. I read perhaps six reviews—and found only two out of those six that even mentioned it. Hm. Reviews are such interesting critters…

Here’s my take, for what it’s worth. The second person is what drew me to the book. Actually, at first it repelled me. I read the first chapter excerpt to Blinded in the back of Travis’s last book, Admission, and couldn’t believe what I was reading. I could barely make it through the chapter, I found the point of view (POV) so distracting. I even wrote Travis, saying, man, what have you done? Are you tellin’ me the whole book’s like this?


I promised to read the thing for its sheer creativity. Or bravery. Or nuttiness maybe.

Before I continue with my take on the POV issue, let me say some other things about the book.

1. It’s very tightly written. No extraneous meat. Think Kellogg’s Special K, you-can’t-pinch-an-inch.

2. The story occurs continually and in a short space of time—about seventeen and a half hours. This kind of story is a challenge from the get-go. The action in my own Violet Dawn takes places in about fourteen hours, so I understand those challenges as a writer. But I jumped back and forth between various characters. Using only one character’s POV in a continuous fast-paced time frame takes some strong writing skills.

What’s more, Travis threw in an extra, clever component.

You see, this continuous, 17 ½ hour story has a lot of backstory. Scenes of Michael and Lisa, and where they’re going wrong. You could call them flashbacks, except that they don’t stop the clock on the current story. They are part of Michael’s reflections on his life as the current story unfolds. Travis handles these time-slips flawlessly. You can read these and think nothing of them, they flow so smoothly. But as one who’s written quite a few present/past stories, I can assure you Travis worked mighty hard to make it look so easy. His technique is very interesting and different. And it works.

3. Jasmine’s motives were hard to understand, although I didn’t trust her from the get-go. She’s just so Out There. But Travis employed one line that brought her totally into focus for me. Someone in the book describes her as a Paris Hilton. Talk about branding—PH has managed it. Suddenly I saw this character as a rich, spoiled, and positively bored person simply out for whatever entertainment she could muster. At any person’s cost. I don’t think authors should employ this technique all the time, or willy-nilly. But this did remind me how the right real-life name dropped to describe a character can be very effective.

One review I read of Blinded called Jasmine a shallow character. Well, yes, but she’s supposed to be shallow. As E.M. Forster would put it, she’s a “flat” character (Aspects of the Novel)—“constructed around a single idea or quality.” In other words she has no arc as a “round” character would have. The arc is for Michael. This is his story.

And now the POV.

In the first chapter I found myself substituting he for you. I just couldn’t get into the second person thing. It became particularly strange for me when Michael was talking about his wife. I’m married, sure, but I don’t have a wife, and I don’t feel as a man does in protecting his wife. So the second person technique of placing me as a female in the character’s shoes certainly felt awkward.

After awhile I got into it and read the you as you. After all, I’ve read plenty novels with male protagonists and didn’t have a problem empathizing with them. I could handle this.

Some time later I forgot the you almost completely because I was so entranced in the other techniques and flow of the story.

About halfway through the book (sometimes I really am slow), it hit me. The great Ah-hah! No wonder substituting he for you in the first chapter didn’t work. He isn’t the right substitute in the first place. I is.

Because you see, second person storytelling isn’t so unusual. It’s all around us. How many times have you heard a person tell something he/she did in second person. It’s almost as prevalent as slipping into present tense when telling a story.

On Saturday night I watched a couple hours of Cold Case Files, the true crime show of solved investigations. Over and over, as various detectives were interviewed, I noticed they would revert to you instead of I.

Lead-in narration: Years of pursuing their suspect. Now they had him, and they were told to stand down.

Detective: That was just the hardest thing my partner and I have ever had to do in our careers. There you are, sitting out front of your suspect’s house, knowing he’s a mere twenty feet away, and you have to drive back to the station and leave him there. You have to do what your superior tells you to do . . .

Okay, Travis, I get it. Second person’s all around us. You just put it on the page.

If you haven’t read Blinded, really, you should. Not just for the second person thing, but to see how Travis handled the other techniques I’ve mentioned. Even if you come away not liking the book, I do think you’ll have picked up some clever tricks from this skilled author.

Today on Scenes and Beans

Jake: War of Words at Java Joint

Wilbur and Carla just go at each other. It’s quite a show. And then Leslie and Bailey try to get between them…


xienxien said...

Your blog is very great. And writings are very remarkable!

Kristy Dykes said...

I can see it coming.

Brandilyn's next novel written in second person.

Bring it on.

Ane Mulligan said...

I read it, Brandilyn. But I didn't much care for the story. The writing was brilliant, the 2nd person didn't bother me, but I got a bit bored reading about a guy getting involved with a woman to begin with. I wasn't sympathetic to him at all. Maybe that's because I'm a woman. But I will agree his writing is great.

Cara Putman said...

I haven't gotten as far in the book as I'd hoped. But I'm intrigued. Second person makes it very personal, even though I'm not a guy (thank goodness!). I don't think it would work for many books, but it is an intriguing concept for this story. I'll let you know if I still think that when I'm done with it.