Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Writing from the Shadows
We were at my son's baseball game and I'd brought the book along to read between innings. I hadn't started it, so I was a little miffed that she'd finally shown an interest in the one book I was really excited to start. Anyway, she sat next to me with the book and was well into the first couple of chapters. Suddenly, she jolted.
'Oh my goodness', she said. She took her sunglasses off, and wiped her eyes. "I wasn't expecting that."
Naturally, as a writer, her reaction got me curious. Short of taking it out of her hands, I waited until she finished reading for the day and started the book later that night. I needed to know how Riggs' accomplished that effect. And this is what I found:
Riggs is a master of atmosphere and setting. In his story, the main character, Jacob, witnesses the mysterious death of his grandfather who, as an orphan, lived on a remote island off the coast of Wales in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Jacob sets off to visit the island and uncover the secrets which his grandfather hinted at before his death. His quest leads him to the abandoned orphanage, a hulking nightmare of a structure, which Riggs describes in haunting detail.
But before Riggs even took me to the island, he surprised me with his breath-holding prose during the same scene that rattled my daughter. Sure, I was expecting it; I knew it would happen fairly early in the book, so my surprise wasn't pure. What I noticed is that what he didn't reveal had a greater effect on me than what he did. His scenes are full of shadow and light, things seen and unseen. His storytelling allows the reader's imagination to take the story to another level.
The book reminded me a little of a movie that I saw when I was about fourteen. I refuse to watch it again, even as an adult after all these years. It was Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, and I saw that it was just remade (though I heard the reviews weren't stellar). In the story, a woman is terrorized by knee-high demons in her own home. I never really saw the demons until the end. Instead, they were characterized by their shadows on the wall, the moving curtains where they hid, their whispers. I was superbly freaked out for weeks. And why? Because it was the idea of them, the suggestion of what was just around the corner. Riggs accomplishes the same effect in his book.
So I let my daughter finish Miss Peregrine until I dove into the rest. I started reading it the other night from the beginning. Last night, I read before bed as I do every night. I finished a couple chapters and really, really wanted to continue to the next. But I saw that Jacob was heading back into the house again. Alone. On a foggy afternoon. And I was alone; everyone else had gone to bed. The curtains were still open in the family room. It was too quiet, too dark outside. I was creeped out, thanks to Miss Peregrine.
Has a book ever had that effect on you? I'd love to know which one.