Monday, May 31, 2010

just finished: As Is by Krista Finch

I really, really wanted to love this book when I chose it to review for The Ooze. Its subtitle ("Unearthing Commonplace Glory"), its editorial blurb, even its cover art all promise thought-provoking engagement with the beauty/pain paradoxes of human life. In other words, it seemed to be my kind of literature. I also have a penchant for memoir and in the past year have loved reading the spiritual autobiographies The Long Loneliness and The Shaping of a Life, among others.

As Is is Krista Finch's first book, and it bears many of the marks of a first book, particularly a first memoir: a lot of talk about being a writer, a lot of ebullient stylistic quirks. Reading it, I have the sense that I'd love to sit down for coffee with Finch, that I'd love to be good enough friends to suggest that she strike out a few adjectives and be careful with the alliteration and emphatic sentence fragments, then trade places and hear her critiques of my writing.

The book claims to be a series of "journey notes," brief sketches of profound spiritual intimations drawn not from heady philosophy or theological arguments but from everyday life: encounters in the grocery store or the local gym, interactions with family, and realizations about the narrator's own longings and joys. These notes are often very short--sometimes shy of 250 words--and they generally follow the format of vividly-described vignette + one- or three-sentence spiritual conclusion. In fact, they feel to me a lot like brief blog posts or reflections jotted in a diary. I can imagine that some readers, especially those without a lot of time to read, will appreciate the episodic rhythm, since they'll be able to read a chapter or two in five minutes between other tasks and then mull over the stories.

I read the book all in one go, and this reading experience probably affects my conclusion, but I wish these short vignettes were longer and more sustained. Indeed, the book's strongest chapters are those few that exceed a page and a half, as I often found myself bristling at pious conclusions that seemed too easily earned. I also wished for a more clear narrative development--it seemed to me that the many brief sketches hint at a larger sweep of story, but the apparent lack of chronology and development undermined the strength of a whole that these parts could have created.

Finally, I wanted more specificity. Many of the segments provided tiny glimpses of connection and interest, but they tended to leave me with more questions than answers: why is the speaker so insecure and perfectionistic? why is her romantic relationship, abstractly and mysteriously described in one chapter as "look[ing] different from the outside," so different? why should I trust this speaker, identify with her, find comfort in the conclusions of her own life? I think, along with more sustained reflections and a stronger narrative progression, the book would have been strengthened by more particularity in the life stories. Anne Lamott, one of Finch's heroes, establishes connections with her readers through this sort of sustained, concrete vulnerability, which earns her readers' respect for both her irreverence and her shared life-lessons.

The raw material, the premise, some of the insights, and Finch's passion for writing all add up to a lot of promise, but the execution leaves me wishing for greater depth. This is not a book I would recommend to my friends, but I do look forward to seeing Finch's writing continue to develop and to seeing what else comes out from the press she and her husband inaugurated with the publication of this book.

1 comment:

  1. Cindy,
    I just wanted to thank you for not only taking the time to read As Is, but for such a thoughtful and complete review. I am challenged and inspired by your constructive criticism. In fact, I can't wait to start on my next project with your suggestions in mind. I enjoyed putzing around your site as well. Love the "Five Senses Friday" concept. Wonderful stuff.

    Thanks again...