Posted by: oneyearbook | March 27, 2009

Crisis averted

I was browsing the New York Times book section this afternoon and the lead story was about Richard Mason’s new novel, Natural Elements. On the front page of the books section, the review gives the following teaser description of the book:

“In Richard Mason’s novel, an elderly woman with advancing dementia tries to rewrite the unhappy family history she revisits in hallucinations.”

Natural Elements

Natural Elements

I immediately began to hyperventilate. Someone had already written the book I was writing! Oh god – I’d have to start again from nothing.

A second read of the teaser calmed me a little: the similarities between that description and my plot include the elderly woman, the unhappy history, and the revisitations, but in mine, there’s no involvement with advancing dementia (for the main, POV character, at least), and there’s no attempt to rewrite history, rather an attempt to see it more clearly, to understand it better. There are also no hallucinations.

I clicked through to the review, which, although polite enough about the novel’s strengths, suggests that overall it’s not a resounding success. The review averted my panic; while Natural Elements does involve an old woman, memory, and family history, it is also about the Boer War, the tyranny of nursing homes, and the high-stakes investment world, and not at all about the last wave of Pacific Northwest pioneers, the impact of mental illness on family dynamics, museum politics, and the permeability of time.

Anyway, it’s well known that ten writers could take the same idea and all come out with something totally different, so I shouldn’t let these things worry me so much.

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Responses

  1. Your final thoughts “that ten writers could take the same idea and all come out with something totally different,” was the first thing I thought when I began reading the post.
    That said, perhaps a little worry will aid the writing process, similar to hitting word count quotas… pressure helps a wee bit at times.


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