I started reading Roots by Alex Haley and through about two-hundred pages I can't recall being spoon feed a story in greater detail by any other author. To me the writing is dead on the page, quiet literally it is all telling and no showing: turn your brain off and accept what is given; no reader imagination required.
It seemed odd to me because the beginning ( I'm not sure if was exposition yet ) contained so many foreign elements that I read it all as a missed opportunity. Perhaps it's my love of world-building in fantasy novels, but everything that should have been new and exciting came across as boring and inconsequential. An amazing culture that is so rarely dealt with was being glossed over in a laughable manner.
Everyone knows this book, whether or not we have read it. Everyone knows who Kunta Kinte is and what this story is about. The most compelling part for me--the part I was looking for--and what saw me through the boring beginning (I'm not gonna pull punches anymore) was, wondering when will the abduction come that will mark the true beginning of Kunta's life? Every time he left the village, I felt the possibility, and I was always looking out for him as a reader. It was a weird sort of engagement because the writing had no affect of me, but knowing what was coming, and having it constantly put off until later, heightened my anticipation to the point that I was crying out for xanax.
It reminded me of some of the prominent passages in Toni Morrison's Beloved which I recently finished. She has many an odd story telling mechanics, but the one that struck me the most is her presentation of a climax to the reader without any foreplay. She is far from the first to employ such a tactic, but it is one that I feel continually fails except in Morrison's case; odder still both parties bought into the philosophy. We, the reader, knows something important has happened, but we don't know why it should affect us or the characters the way it does. I'd call it a literary wet dream, where you wake up with evidence of certain events, but still wonder, "What happened?"
It is a difficult thing to know a particular event before it's significance is explained.
Just so there is no confusion, their are precious few similarities between Beloved and Roots. I didn't particularly care for the former, but it is amazing and brilliantly done, the later...
It's hard to speak words of praise to Haley considering the blatant plagiarism, forgery, and complete fabrication of the story that he sold to the world as genealogical history. It is harder still to praise his 'ability' as a writer; as I said earlier, I was never engaged by his combination of words to elicit a specific feeling from the reader, rather the occurrence of something expected kept me going. That said, all of these mitigating circumstances--and complete lack of anything of interest happening--that lead up to chapter thirty-four combined for what was without doubt the most intense reading experience of my life. In no way am I a fan of horror fiction, but I can think of nothing scarier and begrudgingly I can stay that events of that chapter were significantly heightened by all that preceded it.
The night I read that passage, I still could have used some xanax, but to calm down after reading the events that I already knew were going to take place. It is not rare for me to stay up till two in the morning reading, but it's never happened before that I stay away till two in the morning, scared out of my mind concerning what I've just read.