Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Books: The Rope Walk

The Rope Walk
By Carrie Brown
Copyright 2007
321 pages

This is, I think, a young adult novel about 10-year-old Alice. It's a coming-of-age novel that has been influenced by To Kill a Mockingbird, for one, and a lot of MFA education for another.

We meet Alice on the day she turns 10. She also meets two people that day who will play an important part in her life over the summer. One is Theo, a boy her age who has come to this quiet little Vermont town to stay with his grandparents. He is a mixed-race young man who is headstrong, knowledgeable about the world, and vibrant. He is also incredibly independent and the reader cannot help but love him. Alice, who seldom watches TV and lives in her head, certainly needed someone like Theo in her life to shake it up a little, though with five (or was it four?) brothers and a father you'd think she would have plenty going on. But no.

The other person she meets is Kenneth. He is an older man, an artist, who is now sick and ill with AIDS. Both of these fellows will lead Alice down a trail she never intended to follow.

Together Alice and Theo befriend Kenneth and they decide to give him a gift of independence. Kenneth can barely see and with his weak body he has trouble maneuvering. They create a path through the woods for him, complete with a guide rope, so that he can walk alone through the forest he loves.

Their gift turns out to be a curse for its givers but a blessing, of sorts, for the recipient. Alice learns hard lessons and finds growing up to be difficult at best. Actions have consequences, often unintended ones, and living with the results sometimes can be hard.

The Rope Walk starts out slow. It took me 70 pages to get into it, and those pages took me many days, not an evening as I expected when I first picked up the book. I thought I may not finish it but the story finally found its footing about a third of the way through.

The author goes into poetic detail about everything, from the way people smell to the play of light and whatever may be in between. I can endure this generally and when skillfully done I even enjoy it. However, in this instance, I felt like the language inhibited the story, especially in the first part of the book.

Single sentences are whole paragraphs long.

Here's an example from page 258:

"His posture, his hungry, almost ardent exploration of the drawing, reminded Alice, as she stood there with the flowers in her arms, of her own yearning into thin air from the edge of her windowsill, the way she inclined toward that bright, busy emptiness, seeing there the crack in the rock, the secret fissure in the wall, the door hidden by ivy that would open, if only you could find your way through, into a secret garden, the dusty backstage and marvelous winding catwalks of the world, the echoing pavilion in which the clanking, whirring, brilliant machinery of the universe was stored."

Whew!

Don't get me wrong. The writing is beautiful and full of important messages. Maybe this isn't a young adult book, really, but instead a book for adults about a young person.

The Rope Walk won all kinds of awards, so don't mind my picky comments about sentence length. I'm just a Hollins grad who's published about 3,000 articles, but never written a novel, so what do I know?

Author Carrie Brown is the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Hollins University. She autographed this book for me in 2012 when I heard her read at Hollins last year. I like to support the Hollins writers. I can't remember what Ms. Brown read from but I don't think it was this work.

You can watch an interview with her about writing and this book at this link. She has a new novel coming out later this year.

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