I always balk when people say to me, “I couldn’t put this book down!” That rarely happens to me. As I writer, I almost always start micro-managing the books I read, wondering what was going on in the author’s head at the time, the hidden meanings behind their choice of words, the turn of phrase, the setting…what this, that or the other thing is supposed to represent. I pillage the words on the pages for deeper meaning even if there isn’t meant to be any…even if the author’s only aim was to entertain. I’ve often been known to nitpick books to death, especially popular best-sellers, to my own displeasure and in a disservice to the author, to the point where I just have to put them down. And then there are overly ambitious, bloated literary messes (cliché…cliché…touché…) that I…just…can’t…pick up.
Then there’s the golden rule that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Or by its title. But that’s just what I was doing when wandering through an abnormally large and sanitized Barnes and Noble at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on no mission other than killing time when I came across Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night. Cool title. Cool cover. What’s this all about, eh? I bought it on impulse.
And now I can say with cool confidence, you can judge a book by its cover, and I COULDN’T PUT THIS BOOK DOWN! For those keeping track, the last book I couldn’t put down was Ron Rash’s Serena. I ransacked Miller’s debut tale in record time over the three-day Memorial Day weekend. There’s nothing mind-blowing or revolutionary about Miller’s book, but like its cinematic cousin, Mud, which also contained a strong Huck Finn motif, it represents good old-fashioned storytelling bravado: Simple. Layered. Sympathetic characters with complete and satisfying arcs. Interesting setting. Good story. Well told. Continue reading