If They Only Wrote So Much Less

I read an interesting book recently called The Main, written by Trevanian, an author unknown to me. I had never heard of him before. A friend of mine, himself also a writer and a retired English teacher, recommended it to me.

I was hesitant at first since I couldn’t find the book in any of the libraries in Montreal. Only one library had a copy and that was checked out. Luckily Amazon had it.

The book is about Montreal in the mid seventies and is written by an American writer. When I heard the name Trevanian my first reaction was that he is Armenian. Most Armenians have names that end with “ian”. As it turns out, Trevanian was just a pseudonym. I felt kind of sad and disappointed that no one mentioned him to me throughout all these years that I’ve been living here.

First published in 1976, The Main is a beautiful book in every sense of the word. Even though the subject matter is dire, it portrays Montreal’s swarming underworld where the dark streets echo with cries in a dozen languages. It’s a tale of death and danger, action and mystery. Throughout the book I was there emotionally. I felt whatever exaltation, panic, tenderness or despair the situation evoked in the book.

The protagonist is a police lieutenant, an unusual but remarkable hero. The supporting characters are also unforgettable. No character in the book was out of place. The author didn’t portray his characters’ entire lives and yet I could feel they were real. No incident was left unaccounted for. Every sentence served the story: the surprise ending, the attention to detail, an emotion, more than one thing happening at any given time… He knew how to write to give us readers what we deserve/crave.

After reading it, I felt sorry that I hadn’t read it before. It’s rare to come across such a book these days.

I am not a big fan of bestsellers. Maybe my taste in reading is different. I like to read a book that makes me think, that makes me jealous of the writer, that leaves me speechless in awe wishing I could write to the author and that we could be friends somehow.

Nevertheless once in a while I read them for two reasons: First as a reader to find out what all the fuss is about and second as a writer to see what in the book made the author stand out.

I don’t believe that writing a novel is simply a matter of plugging words into a set formula. Raw talent, a unique voice, originality, commitment, passion and luck are components in that quest, and those aren’t things anyone can teach. Unfortunately most bestselling authors of late don’t have any of these qualities. For example, they may be well structured and have a good story but the characters would be lacking, or vice versa. It’s hard to come across a book that has it all. And The Main, despite it being written in 1976, has it all.

I remember a book I read not very long ago. It was by the bestselling author Baldacci. I vaguely remember the story, hardly remember the characters. I only remember a scene in the book where the hero was in his boat and decides to fly with it and land it on the culprit’s house. It’s a scene I won’t forget not because it was great, but because while I was reading it I was thinking this is too much, too unbelievable. And as a reader I felt cheated.

Peternelle Van Arsdale writes:

“If the sentence can be deleted without losing the meaning of the paragraph, or the book as a whole, then delete it by all means. There are lots of writers who would have so much more if they only wrote so much less. A lot of novels I’ve seen may have one really great character and one intriguing plot line. The problem is there are also nine other characters and three other plot lines to wade through, so you lose all the nice trees for the unruly forest.”


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