So, yeah. Here’s the thing – Catherynne Valente’s work is hard for me. It’s hard to admit this. She’s a peer, agewise; she’s actually a year younger than I am. Her writing career is sort of where I thought I’d be, back when I was growing up. There are some people we look to in our lives that make us wonder things like, “What-if?” I don’t mean to let her writing success do that to me, and there isn’t even any envy involved; I’m genuinely happy for her and her success, and more importantly, I want her to be writing, I want the world to have the writing that she produces, and I don’t really care what that does to me, inside. This may or may not be the place to write about this, except, it’s a huge part of why her writing, when I love it, matters, why it matters that I love it, why it’s important to know that I don’t just love it, it challenges me, even the ‘easy’ stories, and I still think it’s worth reading.
My what-ifs look a lot like: what if I hadn’t had to grow up so fast, what if I could have focused more on writing; what if migraines and anxiety issues didn’t plague my life as an adult; what if I didn’t have to work full time; what if my coping with depression hadn’t taken so much of my 20s. It’s funny – I wouldn’t actually change anything about my past, and I don’t actually sit around and mope about the migraines or anxiety, and I’m not actually happy (or productive) when I try to force myself to write when I have nothing to say or nothing to share. I don’t want to have traded my life to have a life that looked more like her life looks. We aren’t the same people, we aren’t going to tell the same stories. I know this, and I accept it, and I even agree. And every time I pick her books up and read them, I have to look at these facts and admit to them all over again.
Her Orphan Tales are in my Perfect Book List. I am so grateful that she wrote them, so grateful that I got to read them, so utterly in love with them. Her writing, in general, makes me excited to be a writer, and reminds me that the story(ies) is(are) what matter(s) most.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making isn’t your typical book. If you haven’t already heard about it go read this. It’s a pretty amazing and special book, before you even get to the actual, you know, story. Once you get to the story? It’s even better. Valente’s command of description and vocabulary is exquisite. On the one hand, the adventure is predictable (in that adventure stories are predictable: you start with a Quest). On the other hand: exquisite.
My one single problem with the whole thing (and is likely my own fault, really) is the ending. September isn’t to be blamed. I hate endings. Worse, they bore me. Books, TV shows, movies – the media doesn’t really matter. Even in my own books I have problems. We reach that point right before the climax and then everything is rushed and sometimes intense, and then just over, and artificial because real stories don’t actually do that, they just keep going . . . (This actually may be part of why Orphan Tales are so perfect. They keep being story beginnings followed by another and another and another. Hrm.) The ending wasn’t bad; it was as well written as the rest of the book, it’s only that I’m impossible to please. In no way do I count my reaction to endings toward my overall opinion of the books I read, just so that you know. That would hardly be fair.
If you’ve never read any of Valente’s work, you really, really ought to. Seriously. Go now.