I’m reading a good friend’s novel-in-progress. She’s sent me the first part, about 100 pages, to read and give feedback on, and I’m finding it such a pleasure to do. Now, admittedly, reading and giving feedback on somebody’s novel is the kind of thing that makes me nervous. I’m not worried about not liking the book, at least in this case — I know this friend’s writing well enough to know that I’ll like it — but I do worry about getting it wrong, somehow, missing something important, or providing feedback that doesn’t make sense or isn’t helpful. Giving this kind of feedback is really kind of a test of one’s reading skills, not to mention friendship-negotiating skills — I need to make sure I’m just as clear about what I like as I am about what I think needs work.
But as I read, I feel more confident about it. I’m finding things to say — confusing spots, or places the transitions aren’t clear — but mostly I’m enjoying it and appreciating what a good novel it is. There’s a reason this author and I are good friends, after all, and it’s partly because we often like the same kinds of books, the same ideas and themes, the same kind of narrative voice. The novel is a consciousness-driven one; not much takes place, at least so far, in terms of plot, but the narrator follows the characters’ thoughts in great detail, and in the 100 pages I’ve read so far, I’ve learned a ton about the relationships amongst the characters, their ways of thinking, their worries and preoccupations.
I only know the first 100 pages, but so far the story is about a family, all the members of which are unhappy with one another for various reasons. It takes place entirely in their house and in the yard outside it. This can feel claustrophobic at times, which is very much the point — the novel seems to be about the give-and-take of family life and how people can come to feel trapped by it.
The novel is partly autobiographical, too, so I have the fun of reading it and enjoying it plus recognizing the characters and comparing them to their real-life counterparts. Mostly, though, in addition to enjoying it as a work of art, I like learning something about my friend — not the autobiographical details but the shape and meaning she’s given to them.