Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ray of the Star

I recently finished burning through Laird Hunt's new Ray of the Star. I found that the structure of the book pulled me through at what was, by my standards, a very fast clip. Chapters are short (generally just a few pages), but each one consists of only a single sentence. I didn't attempt any diagramming, but I got the sense that Hunt was "cheating" a little here and there in order to stick to his self-imposed rule (a common strategy seemed to be: when in doubt, insert a comma and keep going). Not that it matters, since the short chapter, long sentence scheme is effective in creating a simultaneously dense and fast-paced story.

Some of the basic elements of Ray of the Star, loneliness and budding romance in an Iberian city (the geography of the city playing a central role) with creeping supernatural elements, bring to mind Jose Saramago (as do the flocks of commas), but Hunt quickly establishes a tone that is clearly his own. For one thing, I don't think Saramago has ever used profanity to the extent Hunt does here (for a variety of effects, from humorous to sinister). There's also a certain whimsy that is a bit jarring at times, but I suppose this contributes to the slight unreality, the alternate universe quality, of Hunt's Barcelona-but-not-quite-Barcelona.

Ray of the Star has a great hook, a story set among the elaborately costumed (and often creepy) "living statues" of Barcelona's Las Ramblas (although the city and boulevard are never referred to by those names, only as "the city" and "the boulevard", another echo of Saramago). A rough idea of the premise was enough to get me to buy the book, having almost-but-not-quite picked up The Exquisite a few times in libraries and bookstores, and I'm glad I did. In addition to producing a stylishly written, entertaining novel, Hunt has also managed, by approaching it from an unexpected angle, to take what feels like a fresh look at the well-worn theme of how people deal with grief and loss . I just wonder what kind of response the book is getting from the living statue community.

Update/Bonus Link:

Just found this: Hunt discussing Saramago's The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis as one of five books that influenced Ray of the Star. I haven't read the other four, which is probably why I latched onto Saramago as a point of reference for Ray.

I've recommended Saramago's novel before, but I'll do it again here. Year of the Death is pretty slow-paced, especially as compared to Ray of the Star, but it's a book that truly earns that overused adjective, "haunting".

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