First, a PSA (Publications Service Announcement): hie your mouse over to Story Club with George Saunders and subscribe, at the very least (as I am so far) to the free version of his newsletter. Mr. Saunders, the famed author of Lincoln in the Bardo and other acclaimed fictions, is the genial host for some exacting and often exhilarating voyages into what makes a story, what makes a scene, what makes a sentence.
Here’s just an appetizer, chosen without having to look far (because so much of what he writes is good), from one of his posts:
As we get better at choosing, we come to know the feeling of a good swerve vs. a bad one. We come to sense when we are working too hard to provide specific details and thus over-packing our story and making it feel unnatural; we come to sense when we skim past a place where we might want to linger. We learn the tiny mind-adjustments that cause good phrases to appear. We learn how our writing sounds when we are leaning too much on the analytical mind. We learn – we actually can learn – how to steer our minds toward an intuitive place from which it will surprise and delight and sometimes shock us.
George Saunders’ thoughts on writing are excellent. The comments on his posts (and his comments back) are excellent. The punctuation is excellent. Subscribe and thrive.
Klara’s Warm Suns
Sometimes, even through a lifetime of reading good writing, I forget that some books can cast a complete spell, can put you in a state of enchantment. And then, having been enchanted, can threaten that conjured warmth so that your emotional investment increases.
I recently finished Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun and was spellbound. Ishiguro creates a world in an undated future, where children are often raised with companion robots (“AFs”) for security and comfort. But “robot” isn’t the right word: Klara, the protagonist of the tale, is a sentient being, endlessly curious about the ways of humans and ever adjusting her behaviors based on her fine-tuned observations.
We hear her thoughts immediately in the work, for she is the first-person narrator, and those thoughts, sometimes alarmed, sometimes amusing, are beguiling. Because Klara the artificial life-form makes many judgments that are somewhat off, that dislocation can be charming—and then alarming, as you become more aligned with her being, and fear for her and her mistakes.
Klara is purchased to be the companion for an ill child named Josie, whose serious condition is Klara’s deep concern. I won’t go into the murky and often tense, skirted-about structure of how children are raised and positioned (or demoted) for societal success in this odd world, because it gives away too much of the plot, but Ishiguro is masterful in pulling you, without argument, into Klara’s corner—you root for her, fear for her, shine with her triumphs.
Who’s the Robot Here?
The humans in the book, as humans ever are, are struggles in kindness, resentments, schemes and vanities. Klara’s discernments and confusions over human behavior, her puzzling and speculating, continue throughout the work, and my anxiety over her fate confirmed Ishiguro’s skill in making her real. Ethics and moral decisions are structures in the book, but not abstract notions.
I don’t want to give away any more about the work, but I’m jealous of his ability to invite you to an experience in empathy—what a gift to so steep a reader in these feelings. Ishiguro wrote Remains of the Day too, a book that deals with subtle feelings and constrained emotion. I have only seen the movie, which is good, but I want to read the book.
And back to Klara: even the cover got me, so I had to give it lead billing here. George, forgive me.
Links to Thinks
Following are two of my newest boozy pieces, plus a few articles on psychic good cheer. Cheers!
Spirits producers can’t let their products rest. At least completely rest, until they put them in a barrel that had some other spirit (or some odd concoction) in it. The practice known as barrel finishing is making new rounds, and sometimes with some unusual barrels. Published in March 2022 in Craft Spirits Magazine.
I haven’t made it to Ireland—yet. But many of their fine whiskeys have made their way to me. If you’re on your way to the fabled old sod, here are some of their distilleries that will amply host your thirst. Published in March 2022 on the fine spirits blog known as Flaviar.