It seems ironic that the day I choose to read Y is the day this quote comes up on my twitter feed: When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. How right Ernest Hemingway was indeed. My galley copy of Y seems to breathe on it’s own. Its pages are filled with characters, but two or three are so vivid that they aren’t caricatures but real people.
On my first day working for Penguin Canada, there was a quiet hum of “Y” reverberating around the office. My ‘cube-buddy’ told me that Y is the company’s baby this year; everyone loves it. She gave me the run-down of the book’s contents and I figured it sounded okay, but not something I would read. Later, when I heard our Publisher speak of it, I have to admit I was more than curious. I snagged a galley copy, started it at 1:30 this afternoon and finished it at 5:15. The novel, told in both present and past tense, seemed to pulse in my hand, as if urging me to go on reading the tale that tangled so many lives together to form one story–one girl.
This book doesn’t have a fast-paced plot line, a clear antagonist, a gripping sense of urgency, or a really powerful romance. It’s just a story. So what makes it special enough for me to call it one to watch out for on all the awards lists? The characters. Marjorie Celona has tapped the very essence of humanity, without exploring romance or religion, and laid out before us a relatable story of self-exploration, decisions, realizations, and family ties. My own life and personality are nothing like that of Shannon, Y’s main character. Still, I felt a sense of absolute connectivity between us because of her mental explorations. Her questions about herself, her doubts about people around her, the instability of growing up–it’s all aptly familiar.
The story is told from a first person omniscient point-of-view. The fact that Celona accomplished this is in itself enough of a reason to read this book. I couldn’t imagine a harder form of writing and yet she does it effortlessly and stunningly. It made me feel connected to every character discussed in the book, even the ones I came to dislike. She exposes everyone’s vulnerabilities and insecurities, leaving the reader to discern what is positive about them. I remember tearing my hair out during my time spent taking Creative Writing in college because one of my professors would bang on the table, spittle flying everywhere accompanied by the words: SHOW, DON’T TELL! “How???,” my brain would cry, and my pen would just draw scribbles across the paper. He would point out this flaw in many, many books. I can just imagine him being floored by reading this sheer piece of brilliance. Celona’s writing is the very depiction of the mantra Show, Don’t Tell.
I was especially interested by the fact that I found myself more intrigued and fond of Shannon’s mother, Yula, who gave her up the day she was born. Her story. Her untold thoughts. Her quiet pain. It radiated like heat off the pages and I wanted to know more and more. At the end of the book, despite having all the loose ends tied together neatly enough, there was a lot left unsaid, which I am doubtlessly going to ponder over for days, especially in terms of Yula and her life. We always know what Shannon is thinking, but I was left hungry to know what lay beneath Yula’s delicate and complex self.
Y represents the eternal question that runs through all our minds daily. Why did this happen? Why are we here? Why won’t you look at me? Why do I feel this way? Why can’t I say what I really feel? Why? Why? Why? This book was Shannon’s search for answers, but it subtly brings up all the questions we bury deep within ourselves. Why do we bury them? It makes you think but, more importantly, it makes you feel. When a book can leave your chest feeling heavy and your fingertips feeling lonely now that the touch of the pages is no more, it is a book worthy of being called irresistible. When this book releases in September 2012, rest assured you won’t be holding just another book but a work of literary art that will leave you aching for more.