All This Heavenly Glory

I’ve been making notes to myself about fiction I’ve been reading this summer, keeping my own writing in mind…sort of a fiction journal.  Here is a bit about Elizabeth Crane’s second book, All This Heavenly Glory:

It’s hard to know what to call this book.  If I wanted to be crass, or mean, or jealous, or role play as a crass, mean, jealous person, I could say this is a mess of a book, obviously pieced together from a bunch of short stories and writing exercises which all happen to be about the same character.  I could say it’s a broken product of academia, a sour result of the workshop form.  Meaning, that it’s in no way a novel, and Crane must not know how to write a novel, so she wrote this. 

But I don’t really believe those things.  (I loved this book—it’s one of those two day reads I found enthralling and addictive!)  Crane’s book is innovative and witty and fresh, not broken.  Maybe it is fragmented and fractured, but that how people’s lives are, and that’s what this is about, life.  What I do mean to point out, though, is that it is definitely not a traditional novel.  It’s essentially a collection of stories, I think.  There are 18 different sections, which are often written in different styles and voices.  But Charlotte Anne Byers is the main character throughout—and that sounds like a novel, right?  A whole book about one person?  The first line on the inside of the book jacket says, “Here are the events that make up a life.”  And that’s true, an entire life should certainly lend enough material and cohesion to a novel.  But this isn’t really a novel, is it?  Maybe it’s a postmodern novel.  Kidding!  Or maybe it is collection of stories. (Why I don’t want to fully admit this, I don’t know.  But I think it has to do with the fact that I’ve heard over and over that collections of stories don’t sell; so, it’s not like I want to enthusiastically slap the label stories on a book I write.  And All This Heavenly Glory doesn’t label itself, at least not on the physical cover.)  The book does doesn’t say Novel, or Stories on it anywhere.  Which maybe is for the better, because that book
Florida, which was a pretty little thing, called itself a Novel, and that just gave everyone something to rail against and bitch about.  So, why put yourself in a box?  Crane hasn’t, I guess.  This is her second book.  The first was When the Messenger is Hot, which is most definitely a collection of stories…Okay, Amazon does call All This Heavenly Glory a “collection of interconnected stories.”  Is it because it spans so much time and leaves so much out that it can’t be a novel?  Or is that there are such differing styles in the sections?  I’ll try and let this question rest.

One thing I love about this book is how it straddles the line between literary fiction and what you might call chick-lit.  Crane’s writing is good and innovative, but it’s also witty, irreverent, often funny.  This book is a fine specimen of innovative prose styles—there’s a lot to examine on the technical level, casual as the voice may seem.  But this book is also fun and sexy enough to be an excellent weekend beach book.  

As a side note, I thought the black and gold cover of the hard back was really pretty, but the publishers must have decided otherwise because the paper back just came out with a bright, shiny photograph of a girl and bubbles.  I thought the subtle image on the front of the black cover (a constellation of a woman) was a fitting image that also mirrored the structure of the book.

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