Sunday, April 24, 2016

Laura Williams McCaffrey

Laura Williams McCaffrey is author of Marked, Water Shaper, and Alia Waking. She is on faculty at Solstice, an MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College, and lives in Vermont with her family.

Recently I asked McCaffrey about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently finished Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, and I suppose I was a little late to the party on this one, as it won the Printz Award and was a National Book Award Finalist. At the story’s start, a reader might not be entirely certain the story is a fantasy. The world seems a fairly mundane, if quirky, small town. Something strange has occurred — a girl has disappeared, completely vanished, but most of the characters guess that she’s run off. The main character, Finn, saw her go with a man, and yet he has such vague memories of the man, it is difficult to tell whether or not he was mistaken. Soon, though, readers hear from Rosa, the girl who disappeared, and it’s clear she’s in danger, but not entirely in the conventional way. Her story has the feel of a fairy tale; an evil man comes to her each day and asks if she loves him yet. He seems certain she will.

As I try to analyze what I love so much about the novel, I can think of many reasons. The voices of the narrators, as well as the other characters, are vulnerable. And yet, they have hurt each other, and they continue to, often as a way of protecting themselves. The walls they build around themselves leave them lonely.

I also love Ruby’s use of mythology. Her story seems to spring from this mythology in the way that fairy tales have sometimes sprung from mythology, becoming tales not of goddesses and princes, but clever girls and farm boys who must face down dangerous magical forces. Bone Gap is a tale of people who believe themselves to be smaller than they are, and their hearts force them to prove themselves worthy of those they love.

The other book I’ve read recently and loved is Don Brown’s Drowned City. This graphic novel tells the story of New Orleans, and the terrible havoc Katrina wreaked upon the city. Brown begins with the storm approaching and depicts the many ways it swept through New Orleans. He traces the various responses of officials, and how these responses changed over time. He shows the loss of life, the devastation, the desperation, and the solutions that came much, much too late.

I love a lot about this graphic novel. The language is spare, clear and evocative. The faces of the people are more expressive than realistic, conveying pain, fear, and hope. Brown provides the struggles of everyday people trying to survive, and yet also provides a larger picture of destruction. He even offers the failures of politicians along with pertinent statistics. Still, the human stories of the city are central. He renders horrifying incompetence and criminality, and he also renders great heroism and courage.
Visit Laura Williams McCaffrey's website.

The Page 69 Test: Marked.

--Marshal Zeringue