The previous Tips From a Reader dealt with trust; so will this one. I’d contacted Alison Littlewood for an interview because I recalled liking a story she had in Black Feathers, an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow. When it comes to interviews, everything is smoother if I know where to direct a conversation, so I got a copy of The Crow Garden and dove in.
Side note: this book is a fantastic, enthralling, twisted piece of dark Gothic-flavored goodness. Start to finish quality writing with an ending that really smashes the brain to bits.
Now back to trust.
Last time it was letting a reader figure it out, this time it’s the opposite. Personally, I have done a ton of beating around bushes with regards to the fiction I’ve written, and it’s taken time for me to learn that not everything has to be part of your big M. Night Shyamalan reveal. The reader needs building blocks and sometimes they need information served on a platter.
As Insomnia did so well at avoiding beating me over the head with easily understood plot points happening on the periphery, Alison Littlewood mastered the necessary opposite. The Crow Garden had many twists and turns, and a handful of them Alison did her diligent task to explain. That isn’t to suggest that she did anything to hinder the my imagination's journey. This story, by design, needed a guide now and then, probably in big thanks to an unreliable narrator.
Example: Doctor seeks out missing patient, finds her, takes a walkabout to clear his head, and returns to find the estranged husband of the woman there suddenly. I read this and put on my big ugly frowny face, thinking, now wait a damned minute.
Husband had been trailing doctor because of a history between the two, a fact explained, a reader’s annoyance assuaged.
This happened a few more times in the story, always using different vehicles: inner thought, dialogue, a letter. It was information I had to know, so it had to come somewhat bluntly, even forcefully. Alison Littlewood pulled off a fantastic trick of the novel in force-feeding me what I needed, like a close-mouthed boy facing off with Buckley’s Mixture. Proving there are two sides to the trust coin… thankfully she didn’t fully explain every possibility because how things went with Rover ain’t something I need to know.
To summarize, trust that the reader is following along, but know when the gaps in storyline need to be filled. Sometimes the reader needs a hint, sometimes it needs to come in an announcement, knowing when, where, and how much is the trick of it.
Maybe not, but Alison Littlewood knows what she's doing.