“Ache” is a strange word. To begin with, it looks strange, and I’m certain any foreigner struggling to learn English would mispronounce it at the first try. But, after finishing Liz Adair’s novel, Counting the Cost, it was the word which seemed to sum it up the best.
On one hand, “ache” connotes a continuous kind of pain, whether it’s the literal sort you might feel in a part of your body, or the figurative type associated with heartbreak, sadness, or compassion. Yet “ache” can also refer to a feeling of intense desire for something or someone.
By the time I reached the end of her story of a tragic romance set in Depression-era New Mexico, I had felt all those kinds of aches, but in a sweet and soulful way. Through the pages of her novel, her main characters slowly took on very real forms and they ached in very real ways. They ached for each other, and they ached because of each other.
And it surprised me. When it comes to fiction written by present- day authors, I never go in for romance because, generally, they aren’t real enough or compelling enough for me. There has only been one other book I’ve read in the past several years that left me with a similar kind of sweet ache. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. And I only read that one because of the glowing reviews (which, I might add, were well deserved).
Like Frazier, Adair exhibits both a grasp of her landscape and the skills to describe it in phrases that both envelop and illuminate the reader. And Counting the Cost, like Cold Mountain, pairs two cultural opposites–a rural, rustic male with a refined, sophisticated lady. In one story, the divide is bridged, but the circumstances of war get in the way…in the other, well…I’ll leave it to readers to discover for themselves how Heck and Ruth deal with their differences. In both cases, however, there is an overpowering verisimilitude, thanks to the authors’ detailed descriptions.
While I have not yet read any of her other works, it is clear that Adair is a very gifted writer. A third of the way into her story, I had already begun to feel that cocoon that only the best kind of literary writing evokes. It’s a sense of being enclosed in the beauty of literature…words that caress and carry you into other places. She didn’t hit it in every chapter, but there were enough such moments that I almost didn’t want to reach the end of the story.
One example stands out. I’m not sure if Heck’s work on helping in the birth of a calf was something the author, herself, had once witnessed, or if she relied on an account given by one of her uncles. In any case, that is one scene that will stay with me for a very long time. It put me right there behind him, helping me to pull along with him. More than that, it seemed symbolic of the struggles in the story.
I know Counting the Cost is up for a Whitney Award this year and I urge all the voters to take a good, long look at this novel before casting their ballot. My vote is pretty much locked in.
Read Full Post »