Sunday, June 30, 2013

Maya's Notebook

This is the post that I was going to write a few days ago when I finished Maya's Notebook.  But then I wigged out (pretty much about OTC meds) in the ER, and that was just too good to pass up, don't you agree?  I've been writing lots of stuff about the kids as of late; it's time to get out of that rut, at least for one post.

Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende--if you know me well, then you understand that I snatched that book off of the shelf faster than my daughter can slurp down a glass of chocolate milk (is there any greater love affair than my child and that drink?).  Isabel Allende is, hands down, my favorite author ever, and I've read a few books by several different authors in my years. 

Once when I was teaching Edith Wharton in class (an American author from around the turn of the Twentieth Century...look her up), I described her writing style as akin to something you savor for the mouth feel, the richness of the text, and the full-bodied wording.  Wharton's writing is refined, like a delicate cup of tea and scones.  To fully appreciate Wharton, you need to take your time with the text, and let the silky wording float in your mind, like sinking down into really nice bedding before you let yourself fall asleep.  Allende is much like that, to me, but not because her writing is Wharton-esque; it's not.  Her sentences are choppier, often clipped and brusque.  Her paragraphs are often brief.  Her descriptions are pointed.

Yet there's this compelling, metronymic quality to Allende's writing that I find to be captivating.  Truth be told, I appreciate Allende's writing style above all else, even the plot (which are invariably unique).

My only problem with Maya's Notebook, and it's not inconsequential, is that it tends more to the realm of pop lit much more so than anything else that she has written.  At times, the narrative devolves in the slangy speak of the American teen, though in keeping with the plot, which is nevertheless briefly jarring to read given the vast majority of the text is written as Allende writes.  (Her iconic writing style is due in part to translation; Allende's native language is Spanish, which is also the language in which she writes.)  It doesn't entirely make sense for the first-person narration to briefly flit to the side of off-the-cuff expressions given the structure of the narrative as a whole.  But I also get the intent behind these moments as the narrator in question is merely 19 and there is some necessary value in grounding the text in that persona.  If I were the author, I think that I would struggle with that, a difference between what comes naturally to what should be necessary.  Most of the time, the narrative dialogue works; occasionally, it falters.

The plot manages to straddle both American and Chilean cultures as only Allende could, and it works.  She incorporates nods to her roots in magical realism and anchors the text in her background, as she manages to do in each of her works, disparate though they are.  Maya's Notebook is the stuff of people transplanted into other worlds, finding life in foreign soil.  As such, the text proves to be another translation of Allende's own life, borne out into story form in yet another variation.

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