This month my book group is reading Sight Hound by Pam Houston. Like so many contemporary novelists, she seems to be using a jumbled chronology and multiple narrators not so much to enhance the story as to draw attention to herself. She wants us to admire her cleverness. Novelists of previous generations, Flannery Lewis, for example, may have hoped for the something similar, but they did it with much more subtlety.
Abel Dayton by Flannery Lewis. Macmillan (1939), 304 pp.
Abel Dayton, in his mid-teens when the story begins, lives with his father, a railroad telegraph operator, outside a small desert town east of Los Angeles. Charley, a second telegrapher, resides with them. Abel wonders what the future will bring, especially when the depression creates harder times for the town and those passing through. Through a series of incidents over four or five years, some routine -- getting into fights, landing a job, going on dates, and so on -- and others more serious, he comes to understand his emerging manhood and gains insights into the lives of others.
This is a pure example of a coming-of-age novel. Abel, the protagonist, is clearly a kid when the story starts. He, of course, has no control over the changes, both physical and emotional, that adolescence brings. But he recognizes that his responses to the events of his life are part of the transformation he undergoes. And he is aware that he will need to take responsibility for the person he is becoming. Lewis surrounds Abel a cast of vivid characters, all of whom are on life journeys of their own. Using a simple writing style, Lewis brings a strong sense of time and place to a story with a universal theme. Readers craving excitement should probably go elsewhere. Anyone else is likely to find this a satisfying book.