There are books and then there are books. Finny by Justin Kramon falls into the latter category. It is a sweeping tale of one young woman's life -- while some might label this book coming-of-age -- the narrative carries the main character, Finny, (actually Delphine) well beyond her post adolescence. With humor and compassion, through Finny's story we experience it all: life, death, love, loss, betrayal and triumph. Without becoming maudlin or histrionic, Kramon handles the most emotionally charged scenes with tenderness allowing Finny to draw you into her world so deeply you will emerge blinking at your surroundings and that is simply the best kind of book. During a marathon read this summer I finished this book in a day. I'm pretty sure I ignored everything and everyone to do so. When it was over I simply could not stop thinking about this book and so I did what every person does in the technology age -- I googled the author. I found his site, http://www.justinkramon.com/ (with fabulous drawings of the characters) and "met" him on FaceBook. When I asked him to guest blog and he accepted I was thrilled.
Please welcome Justin to the blog where he talks about one of his (and mine) greatest literary influences. The incomparable Alice Adams.
ON ALICE ADAMS by JUSTIN KRAMON I picked up my first Alice Adams story collection at a used bookstore in Iowa City, when I was in grad school, and looking for something to get me out of a writing funk I was in. I'd read one of her stories in an anthology a few years before, and remembered liking it. I thought Adams was very famous, since most of the stories in the collection had been published originally in The New Yorker, and I'd seen her name in a number of fiction anthologies.The collection, a book called To See You Again, was fantastic. I admired the technique – the crispness of the writing, the fluidity of the transitions, the elegance of the narrative structures – but more than that, I had a huge amount of fun reading it. The stories were absorbing, filled with humor and incisive psychological observations, unsentimental but respectful of the significance of everyday dramas and losses. It was like reading gossip by a close friend, only much smarter and funnier than any gossip I've ever read. And it felt just as real – the characters, the scenes, the settings – like I was being led into some secret viewing room on other people's lives.I was amazed by the range of emotions Adams could create in the course of a single conversation. In a story called "Snow," a man named Graham looks across the dinner table at his daughter's girlfriend, a woman named Rose, and Adams writes:She looks almost pretty at that moment, but not quite; looking at her, Graham thinks again, If it had to be another girl, why her? But he knows this to be unfair, and, as far as that goes, why anyone for anyone, when you come to think of it? Any pairing is basically mysterious.In three meticulous sentences, Adams captures a story's worth of tiny disruptions and adjustments in Graham's mind: a slightly homophobic resentment toward his daughter's romantic choices, followed by a surprising moment of acceptance, and capped off by the realization of a sort of universal truth about the mystery of romantic relationships. Adams transitions seamlessly between the story's narration and Graham's interior thoughts. All of this in a glance across the table.Adams never calls attention to herself. Her language is unpretentious, and I've always had a respect for writers who can express complicated emotions in simple language, language that has a conversational tone to it, that welcomes readers in rather than pushing them away. She's not imprecise or careless, just not formal. Her impulse is to include you rather than impress you.There's remarkable restraint in the stories. In other writers' work, an intense moment of realization like this is often followed by a dramatic fight, or tears, or at the very least, a space break. But Adams transitions right back into the conversation, and there are ten more moments just as vivid and honest and jammed with insight before the end of the scene on the next page.I'm a big fan of Alice Adams' work, both the stories and the novels, so it's been sad for me to find out that not many people read her anymore. She died in the late 1990's, and a number of her books are out of print. I don't know if it's because her characters and themes seem dated, but if that's the case, I hope it passes. I don't think most people read quality fiction for its politics, but rather to be absorbed by the stories.Adams reminds me of what I want to do in my own work, of the priorities I have for myself in my writing, and the kind of writer I'd like to be. My fiancée and I have passed Alice Adams books to each other for years, and by now we've gone through most of them. There may be one or two I haven't read, but I think I'll save them for a time when I'm feeling down about my own work, and I want to pick up something inspiring, something I know I'll love. Justin Kramon is the author of the novel Finny, which the Baltimore Sun has called "the rare authentic coming-of-age novel," and of which the Boston Globe has written: "Dickensian...a talented young novelist...a dickens of a first novel." Justin's work appears in many magazines, and has been honored by the Michener-Copernicus Society of America, The Best American Short Stories, the Hawthornden International Writers' Fellowship, and the Bogliasco Foundation. Now thirty-years old, he lives in Philadelphia. You can read about Finny, watch the book trailer, and view sketches of the characters in the novel at Justin's website,www.justinkramon.com.