All around me, there’s talk about being in the present. Ram Dass says: “be here now!” Eckhart Tolle revolutionizes the way we think with the Power of Now. My friend Rebecca, in her blog, recommends pausing in our pursuits to be happy now. Being in the present is a quality I seek, long for, and attempt to exercise on a daily basis. But there is one present that challenges me most. The present tense.
I don’t like novels written in the present tense. I have hard time feeling a connection to them. There are, of course, exceptions: novels in which the use of the present reinforces immediacy and tension. Mostly, however, I find myself wondering what the use of the present really added to the story line.
For example, Eden and I recently finished My Best Frenemy. While reading the book, I continually got the impression that the first person narrator there knew exactly what was going to happen and had a hard time pretending otherwise. She had peeked at the ending of her own told-while-it-was-happening book!
On the flight to Kauai I started The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. At first, I found the narrative tedious. The story did not grip me, but it was the only novel I had with me, so I kept reading, hoping for improvement.
Luckily, I soon dove into the story. The main character, Elisa, is a reluctant heroine who does not fear to say what’s on her mind and rarely forgives herself for not standing up for what she believes is right. She learns to accept herself, but is human enough to wish for the good will and liking of the people around her.
In Elisa’s case, the present is a powerful tool. As she tells her story, I clearly see the black wall of ignorance which blocks her (and the reader’s) view of the future. She, like the reader, does not know where the story leads, and because she doesn’t know, it matters to me more what will happen to her. I root for her success and the success of her friends. I care about her budding romance, and I wish her a good life after she triumphs over whichever challenge next lies on her path.
This is a well crafted, intelligent novel, with strong character and plot, both of which pull me along for a ride through their rich landscape. Halfway through the book, I forgot that it is in the present tense, and I hang on to the edge of my seat as I watched the adventures of Elisa unfold. It is, perhaps, yet another reminder not to make generalizations about what I like or don’t. For a change, I’m letting myself enjoy the tension of the present, and I’m not peeking to see what will happen in the end.
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