Thanks to Bill Doonan for inviting me to Novel Spaces for a guest spot. As a screenwriter and visual artist I have an appreciation for the cinemagraphic aspects of fiction and enjoy fast-moving stories.
That said, two favorite authors I have followed for many years are Barbara Kingsolver and TC Boyle, literary fiction writers with a social conscience. As I delve into creating a platform for my first novel, a thriller titled Help Me Kill, I understand the need to clarify genre distinctions and reach out to tell readers what the book is like.
Which can be frustrating, many of us would love for our genre work to be considered literary, and perhaps some writers of literary fiction wish their books could gain the broad exposure that some popular genre fiction pieces successfully grab. But we can’t always have it both ways.
Some books come close to successfully breaking out, though. I just read an amazing spy thriller that I think rivals the best of the genre and crosses the line into literary fiction, Red Sparrow, by career CIA case officer Jason Matthews.
It got a good review in the Times, and I think this writer accomplishes some very intriguing literary feats.
If you think this is some Tom Clancy shlock, get ready for a wake-up call. Matthews unfolds a great deal of backstory in the first several chapters to acquaint the reader with his characters, it might seem a little slow-moving to thriller readers, but the time shifts are well-handled and effective, I think he is cleverly leaning a bit on the conventional structure and tone of literary fiction.
As the story continues, in a beautifully-orchestrated trajectory of rising action and shifts in tone, Red Sparrow winds us up with superbly-crafted layers of intrigue, but also brings us close to a love story between the strong heroine and her agency handler, subtle tension encourages us to anticipate the outcome.
The twists as you read through the mid-point and into the third act are elegant and simple yet with mammoth consequences for those involved, there is real philosophical weight here. I think rewarding the reader is a crucial responsibility of the writer, to structure the story so that it just gets better and better and at the end leaves you satisfied but wanting more.
If that sounds like a seduction, yes, there are plenty of erotic elements to the story, and this is something I weave into my first book as well, I think it is the sparks of romance and sex between characters magnetically drawn together that adds the taste of reality, it is a powerful human motivation that deserves to be acknowledged and fully explored. It’s also a great challenge to write erotic material that feels organic to the story and doesn’t break the spell.
I understand that literary writers perhaps don’t wish to resort to such transparent devices to push readers’ buttons, and I can appreciate an intellectual and spiritual exploration of the human condition as much as the next person, but I think it is a truly worthwhile challenge to try and incorporate the best of both worlds and write a story that tests our emotional boundaries on multiple levels, these changes in tone are part of what makes it fun to read, otherwise the arc is a predictable ride that holds closely to its genre.
Help Me Kill – a novel by Daniel Stuelpnagel:
“Rebellious French party girl Sabrina Dunand and Swiss doctor Erich Kestenholtz conspire to kill wealthy entrepreneur Konrad Albrecht, so that Erich can steal his identity, along with twenty million euros in rare art works. This taut, suspenseful and poetic story captures the sex, romance, cynicism and violence of a peculiar slice of the European demimonde.”
And even if you don’t necessarily want to take a chance on that, do read Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews, it is a tremendous book and in my opinion sets the bar very high.