Yesterday I finished reading a manuscript by a friend of mine, Whitney Terrell
. His next novel, The Good Lieutenant
(if that's what it ends up being called), is a story of the Iraq War at its toughest, around 2004. You will probably be able to buy it in 2012. And you really should. I'd say preorder it now, but you can't yet. Man, oh man, it is good.
I should say at once that this is one of the great benefits of the writer's life: I have gotten to know other writers, often lovely people (Whit is), and often incredibly talented (Whit is), and occasionally generous enough to let me read their work for free months or years before it's published. (Not in this case. I stole a flash drive of Whit's when he was passed out drunk and bleeding in my living room after a bizarre dinner party/brawl, so he is only about to learn, this very moment, that I read his book. Yo, Whit, who's a "light-weight writer" now, eh?)
I know a few things about the author. He has been an embedded journalist with an infantry division in Iraq a couple of times. He went to Princeton (where part of the book is set). He is from Kansas City (as two of the characters are).
So I read this fabulous book, almost in a single sitting, and I started to ask myself, in that ludicrous envious-novelist sort of way, "How is he doing this? How did he create such a thing? Did he see something like this/know someone like that? Maybe I should go and get embedded in a war so I can write a book this good... " And in my wonder and marveling, I began to conclude this and that about what he had seen in Iraq, at Princeton, in his childhood, and what he felt about the war, and what he was trying ? oh, my God ? to say. I was wrong about almost all of it, I have since learned, because in my privileged position of knowing him, I can find out the facts.
And the facts are, here is a great artist of words and ideas and human nature displaying his wares for lucky readers (early lucky readers now, paying customers later), and as I re-read the pages now (as I am doing between paragraphs of this blog), I am again taken back to the dust and blood and boredom and terror and confused motives and missed signals of his carefully constructed tragedy, the same elements of ancient Greek tragedies and Elizabethan tragedies, and I am again struck with wonder at what a great writer can do...
I have to go now. I have a great book to read. I hope you do, too. (And thanks, Jill and everyone at Powells, for having me.)