Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Remember when I took umbrage with the USA Today blurb on the cover of If I Stay that read, "Will appeal to fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight" (if not you can check it out here)?  Well, THIS is the book it actually belongs on.  The parallels between Shiver and Twilight are pretty numerous, sooooooo, if you are a fan of Twilight you're going to like Shiver.  If you aren't a fan, there is still a chance that you will like this book, but that chance is probably pretty small.

Personally, I ENJOYED Twilight more, BUT I think Maggie is a better writer than Stephenie.  I always feel a bit strange when I make comments like that, and although misleading, I think it's also true.  There is a difference between technical proficiency and feelings conveyed by the text, regardless of the quality of the writing.

Let me try this another way.  Have you ever seen the movie Mr. Holland's Opus?  If not, you should.  What a fantastic and uplifting movie.  There is a scene in it where Mr. Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) explains to a student (Alicia Witt), who has decided to give up the clarinet, the difference between "the notes on the page" and emotion in music.  To help illustrate his point, he plays her Louie Louie by the Kingsmen. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch this clip.  I tear up everytime I see it.

In this respect, I don't believe writing is any different than music.  I think alot of writers get caught up in writing the perfect sentence, the perfect paragraph, the perfect page and forget that they're telling a story.  I'm not trying to suggest that this is what happened to Maggie.  Her "writing" isn't THAT good, I just feel like it's a little more mature... maybe more sophisticated than Stephenie's, and in the end doesn't stir my emotions as effectively as Stephenie did it.

I've seen some reviewers complain about Maggie's purple prose which is somewhat related to what I'm talking about.  Dictionary.com defines purple prose as "writing that calls attention to itself because of its obvious use of certain effects, as exaggerated sentiment or pathos, especially in an attempt to enlist or manipulate the reader's sympathies."  Below this, it cites American Heritages' Cultural Dictionary definition as, "Writing full of ornate or flowery language. Ornate, flowery speech can also be referred to as purple prose."  Corey at GoodReads cited this passage as purple prose (There is NOTHING spoilerish in this passage, but I understand if you feel the need to skip it, it does come directly from the book):

Cool air bit my cheeks and pinched at the tops of my ears, reminding me that summer was officially over. My stocking cap was stuffed in the pocket of my coat, but I knew my wolf didn’t always recognize me when I was wearing it, so I left it off. I squinted at the edge of the yard and stepped off the deck, trying to look nonchalant as I did. The piece of beef in my hand felt cold and slick.

I crunched out across the brittle, colorless grass into the middle of the yard and stopped, momentarily dazzled by the violent pink of the sunset through the fluttering black leaves of the trees. This stark landscape was a world away from the small, warm kitchen with its comforting smells of easy survival. Where I was supposed to belong. Where I should’ve wanted to be. But the trees called to me, urging me to abandon what I knew and vanish into the oncoming night. It was a desire that had been tugging me with disconcerting frequency these days.
What Corey sees as purple prose, I see as a good use of adjectives.  I don't find it distracting in the least and it helps to convey the setting nicely.  For me purple prose, generally, requires extensive (occasionally indecipherable) metaphor, similie, and/or waxing philosopical about the topic at hand.  Blah... I'm rambling here and ultimately it's probably just a matter of taste (I'm sure there are a number of Twilight haters out there that don't think I have any).

For the most part Maggie creates solid characters here that are easy to care about.  I was very sympathetic to their plight, and eager to see how they would deal with the obstacles. 

Her spin on werewolves was entirely original to me and very interesting.  While overall, I feel it is a strength in the book, it does require more suspension of disbelief than the traditional mythos as the catalyst for change seems so volatile.  I won't get into this because of the spoiler factor, but it made me feel somewhat dubious about some of the scenes in the book.

For me the biggest problem with the book is that Maggie has chosen to split the narrative between Grace and Sam.  This would be fine except that Maggie doesn't do a good job of writing the male perspective.  Don't get me wrong, I like the sensitive man as a character, but Sam is not so much an idealized male (ala Edward), as he is a girl in a boy's body.   Of the two leads, Grace comes across more male than Sam does (which I suppose is not surprising- according to an interview with Maggie, Sam is modeled after her whereas Grace is more like her husband) and I don't think you'll be in any danger of mistaking her for a man.

Despite these problems, I'm giving Shiver four stars although it's probably more of a really strong three.


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