Locklear Library: The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford

For our first post in the Locklear Library, I have challenged Jennifer to read a book that greatly influenced my current writing style.  Since we collaborate on writing projects, I thought she would be particularly interested in what was shaking my monkey tree so hard.

The book I’m speaking of is The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford.

okl-Shadow-Year

It’s a simple story really about a simpler time, but the way the narrative paints scenery as well as inner emotion was exceptionally focused.  I became a fan of Mr. Ford’s writings upon reading this book, and have since read several of his other novels with a few more waiting patiently on my library shelf.

So, Jennifer, what did you think of the writing? The story? Can you tell why I love this guy?

Jennifer: Let me begin by saying not only did you ask me to read this book, but you’ve asked me repeatedly over the last two years to do so. I remembered your enthusiasm for the novel as you read it over the course of a one week vacation, and that excitement still shows through today.  I can’t say there was any particular reason why I kept putting off reading The Shadow Year, but once I finally pulled it off the shelf and peeked at the opening sentence, I understood immediately why it connects with you.

“It began in the last days of August, when the leaves of the elm in the front yard had curled into crisp brown tubes and fallen away to litter the lawn.”

The description of the leaves as crisp brown tubes is exactly the kind of thing I would expect to see in your writing, and this book is full of amazing descriptors like that one.

As far as the story goes, I have to admit that at first I struggled. The writing itself was very good, but I was having trouble finding the same kind of connection you experienced. In the beginning I could only read a chapter at a time (and the chapters are fairly concise). But then after about thirty or forty pages, I began to realize all the seemingly separated characters and moments I’d been reading about were beginning to meld together into a bigger story. Once I hit that point, I really became invested in the book.

One of the questions I’ve wanted to ask you about Jeffrey Ford’s writing is how you think it compares to Stephen King’s? I’m particularly referring to King’s novels that focus on the world of children in mid-twentieth century America. Personally, I found myself thinking a lot about stories such as It and Stand By Me as I read The Shadow Year.

Morgan: YES!  Now that you mention it, it reminds me of the very first book we read together, SK’s gigantic awesome and super scary, ItThe Shadow Year has that kind of vibe only a bit more edited.  It was sweet and creepy at the same time.  Since it was you who got me into Stephen King, (and the Seattle Seahawks) I knew you would appreciate a passage like this:

“The days sank deeper into autumn, rotten to their core with twilight. The bright warmth of the sun only lasted about as long as we were in school, and then once we were home, an hour later, the world was briefly submerged in a rich honey glow, gilding everything from the barren branches of willows to the old wreck of a Pontiac parked alongside the Hortons’ garage.”

Do you find that there is a fine line between poetic and distracting?  I think Ford nails it, but SK sometimes has diarrhea of the word processor.  (I mean that in the nicest possible way, Stephen).

Jennifer: Absolutely. Some of the books that end up losing me are ones where the author is so focused on the poetic narrative that other elements of the story suffer.  As a result, the intended message can be lost in the overly flowery language or the character development is neglected or the dialogue exchanges are rushed or forced. There’s always a balance that needs to be maintained in all facets of storytelling. In my opinion, the best authors are the ones who not only maintain this balance, but also make the writing appear effortless (which I doubt it rarely is).

Who was your favorite character in The Shadow Year and why?

Morgan: I like Mary, the little sister. She had a Wednesday Addams quality that I rather enjoyed.  She was wise, mostly quiet but usually had the solutions to problems.  I liked her relationship with her brothers too.  They treated her like a girl, but still one of them.  I remember being scared along with those kids while they waited for a big white car to turn around in their direction, or for an eerie noise in the backyard to be just their dog, George.

Would you ever consider reading another Jeffrey Ford book?  I have several that are actually short story collections. (His claim to fame is short fiction, actually).

Jennifer: Now that you say that about short fiction, I can see that. The Shadow Year is a small novel (less than 300 pages) compared to most of the books I read, but he managed to put a lot of story into it.  So yes, I would definitely read other works by Jeffrey Ford.  Thanks so much for your persistence in getting me to read this one. Your determination paid off.

If you’ve enjoyed our post today and would like to look up Jeffrey Ford and his works, here is the goodreads link for you to check out.

 https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19305.Jeffrey_Ford

Please also feel free to friend us on goodreads to see what else we’re reading and to share your recommendations with us.

Morgan’s: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5033084-mog

Jennifer’s: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/4482712-jennifer

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Posted on November 25, 2013, in Jennifer Locklear, Locklear Library, Morgan Locklear and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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