These days I seem to divide my reading between carefully selected indie authors and a long backlist of classics. A week or two back I found myself reading Canadian indie author Francis Guenette’s Disappearing in Plain Sight alongside Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools, which stormed the literary world in 1962.
The comparison was instructive: Both novels are driven by strong characters, and both immerse the reader in compelling settings. At the same time, there was a complementarity between the books: Porter’s scathingly critical analysis of the hapless passengers on a pre-war journey from Mexico to Europe; Guenette’s insistence on redemption for her damaged and difficult characters in rural British Columbia.
I haven’t reviewed Porter; after all, she did get a Pulitzer decades before the Kindle was a gleam in anyone’s eye. But I did give Disappearing in Plain Sight five stars here.
I’d love to ask Katherine Anne Porter some questions about Ship of Fools. Alas, I am 36 years too late. However, I popped a few questions to Francis about her thoughts on Disappearing in Plain Sight:
Q – What would you say to your character Izzy if you came across her in a coffee shop?
A – Hands down, I would ask her for more Caleb stories. Izzy’s first husband, Caleb, the man who created the paradise at Crater Lake that Izzy inhabits, is dead before the opening lines of Disappearing in Plain Sight and yet he has often been named as people’s favourite character. One reader went as far as to say that Caleb is the moral compass of the novel. Glimpses into this man’s personality and charisma saturate the entire Crater Lake Series. I know as the books add up and I move further from his death and into the lives of the people left behind, I will have to be more and more creative in my task of keeping him in the present narrative. Come on, Izzy. Help me out here.
Q – Did you fall in love with any of your characters when you were writing the book?
A – Hmmm … since a little bit of me is in every single character, I was narcissistically in love with each of them. Differing personality traits appealed to me. I admired Lisa-Marie’s feistiness. Who wouldn’t fall for Justin’s good looks and code of honour? I fell madly in love with Beulah’s sharp wit and wry comments. My heart went out to Bethany for the cards life had dealt her. Liam’s strength and fragility wrenched my emotions every time I encountered him. And Izzy’s struggles with grief and professionalism buffeted me with echoes of many, many stories I’ve heard over the years. As you can probably tell, these characters mattered to me. If, as an author, I am not emotionally committed to my characters, how can I expect the readers to care?
Q – Do you ever wish you’d ended the book differently?
A – Absolutely not – the ending of Disappearing in Plain Sight gives me great satisfaction. The novel never started out to be the first book in a series. It was simply a story I had to tell. When I try now to answer questions about where the characters or ideas came from, I’m at a loss to provide an answer. All I do know is that the ending more than any other part of the book had the characters clamouring in my head to have the next chapters of their lives told. After three novels, they are still at it with new characters constantly making appearances and begging for attention.
The verdict after my week of parallel reading: Porter is deservedly part of the canon of English language literature, but indie authors like Guenette are producing stellar work. Both books gave me immense satisfaction.
Read a free sample of An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity here. Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity and The Play’s the Thing . Stuart Campbell’s covers are designed by Rachel Ainge .