Friday, March 4, 2011

Now that's how it's done, dawg

I've been watching a lot of American Idol this season, primarily for Steven Tyler. Love him or hate him, there's something genuinely appealing about the Aersomith frontman. If you're shaking your head in disgust, you may be in denial. Just saying.

But it isn't the (oddly) sexy Tyler I quote tonight, but rather his seasoned counterpart, Randy Jackson. I just finished reading the highly-anticipated Chelsea Cain thriller The Night Season and oh, wow, now that's how you do it, dawg.

I first fell in love with Cain after reading Heartsick - one of the most tightly written, emotionally charged and creepy thrillers I've ever read. The story centres around Archie Sheridan, a tortured cop, Susan Ward, a reporter with lots of baggage, and Gretchen Lowell, one of the most amazing antagonists I've ever seen in print. She's beautiful, sexy, and lethal.

So much about each of these characters could have been cliche, but Cain doesn't go near "amateur" with a ten-foot pole. Not in Heartsick, not in Sweetheart, not in Evil at Heart and certainly not in The Night Season.

Cain's style is enviable I want to BE her.

I've been waiting so long for this book, I was desperate for another dose of Gretchen - I fell hard for this complex villain, so much so my husband bought the RUN GRETCHEN t-shirt from the website not long after I finished the third book, Evil at Heart. In that book, Cain demonstrates the power of the media and society's need to cling to an idol - even if that idol is a cold blooded killer. Gretchen IS a pop culture icon in the books, but also off the page.

So I approached The Night Season with caution. Gretchen's role is so minor, it's almost non-existent.

I'm almost relieved, because when I gush about Cain and The Night Season I'll know my compliments will fall in all the right places. And oh, there are many.

A flood is terrorizing Portland, dredging up old bodies - and memories of a disaster from almost a hundred years prior. To make things worse, a killer is poisoning the residents, before sending them to their death down the overflowing river. Susan and Archie know the events are tied together - but each of their lives will be in danger before resolution is found.

I know, the plot doesn't sound complex. But here's the beauty of Cain's writing - the story is made non-linear by her ability to twist the status quo into something awe-inspiring.

The geek writer in me has to break it down. (I apologize if you just want a damn review...)

1. Setting - the town is flooding; it's pouring rain; fog is drifting over the water, and the killer does most of his dirty work at night. Creepy, much?

2. Characters - damn they're good. Archie is still recovering from his Gretchen torture and is finally off the vicadin; Susan has stopped sleeping her way to the top, changes her hair to purple, and finally gets a backbone against her jerk of an editor; and, the killer is just plain awesome. Not Gretchen awesome, but close.

3. Kill method - can't tell you because I'll spoil it, but let's just say I had Wikipedia bookmarked.

4. Pacing - fast. Furious. Envy-inspiring. This is what my mentors meant when they said the book should move along fast enough to keep the reader turning pages, but not too fast so they get lost. My only complaint is that it's over too fast - and goodness knows when she'll write another book. I'm thinking about starting the series over.

5. Dialogue - oblique. Spot on. Occasionally funny, but always with purpose. Study it - I am.

6. Description - Cain uses very few words to paint a very vivid picture. The Night Season isn't as gory as her previous books, but it IS creepy, and frankly, breathtaking in its brilliance. Tight writing!

7. Emotion - a little bit harder to explain, but here goes: If I'm being honest, Heartsick wasn't perfect from a craft perspective. A lot of "rules" were broken. But, I ignored most of them, because at the end of the day, those small bends to the rulebook were made up for in spades with emotion. Cain has this nailed. Her writing makes me feel. Grief. Sympathy. Love. Fear. Obsession. Anticipation. I felt it all in The Night Season - and with everything else of hers I've read. Not an easy task, friends.

Yes, Chelsea, this IS how it's done. Thank you! I don't even know what to read next...

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed her third book, which I read on your recommendation!