Lots of elements can influence the speed of a book. The amount of action. The amount of time passing. The narrative voice. The use of language. The inclusion of dialogue. Any number of other things. Which is better? You’ll probably find most young people want speed, action, and a clear forward movement. But there’s something to be said for a book that isn’t about pace, or direction, or purpose. A book more concerned with character, with thought, with mood has just as much intent, interest, and insight. A book like that forces you to slow down, and appreciate words, sub-text, and nuance. It can be illuminating.
Two books that are measured and considerate are The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth (February, 2012), and It Looks Like This by Rafe Mittlefehldt (December 2016). They both explore gay conversion therapy, an effective way to handle such delicate a subject matter. Terrible, horrible acts like this need to be explored in an empathetic and open context. Giving readers plenty of time to be acquainted with the protagonists is a positive way to develop that context.
Danforth spares no detail, no dialogue, no description to show us the extent of Cameron’s situation. The novel starts with her as a 12 yr old, losing her parents tragically, and it’s another 4 years before her Aunt Ruth sends her to Promise. On the first page, there is a depiction of the summer heat that immediately has readers slowing down to capture the mood. Cameron shows her mixed feelings about her homosexuality, and through the myriad expressions of her acceptance, readers are given many opportunities to slow down and think about what and how she ultimately arrives at that place of self-worth.
Mittlefehldt uses other devices. Or doesn’t use them. He leaves out any quotation marks around dialogue, jolting the reader out of any sense of comfort or familiarity. The author is not taking us on a merry ride, reinforced by the subdued tones. We are given Mike’s point of view, and yet he reveals nothing to himself (and consequently to us) about his same-sex attraction for almost half the book. Mike finally admits to being gay, but the price of acceptance might be considered too high by some. But thankfully, Mittlefehdlt doesn’t give us a quick resolution. He treats Mike with dignity, and we leave him in a better place.
The conversion plot plays a different role in each book. For Cameron it’s a way to find some like-minded souls, who give her the freedom and support. For Mike, it’s a way to confront his fears. Unfortunately, the trope that someone needs to die in order for others to realise the error of their ways plays out too often in LGBTQIA lit, but it’s difficult to complain when it’s this type of message that hits home more powerfully.
Slow-paced books aren’t for everyone, nor can we read them all the time. But to pick up a book that provides space for contemplation, and to appreciate sublime language use is something we should all try at some point.
Thanks to the hosts of the #rainbowblogchallenge for the prompt.