Throughout my education as a fiction writer, and through the publication process of my first two novels, I've often been asked to discuss the point of a book. "What's the moral of the story?" people ask at book clubs, after craft lectures, at readings. And usually--because I hate that question--I just say that there is no point, no moral: the story is the story, to be taken or to be left.
And then I read Callie Wright's astonishing Love All and a better answer came to me. Good fiction is the best way we have to walk in another person's shoes, to get a stronger hold on our ability to empathize, to sympathize, and to take us out of ourselves for a little while. In other words, reading good fiction makes us better people, and by that standard, reading Love All made me a better person.
It's difficult to describe a novel like this because it doesn't rely on any of the usual crutches of craft--no one leaps out a window, nothing explodes--it's simply a story about a family at a particular moment in time: 1994, Cooperstown, New York. Each chapter is told from a different character's point of view, and each voice lends another shade to this portrait of a family in the days and weeks before their lives change forever. The mood of the novel is charged with the sense of foreboding they have--we all have--when coming change stirs the air we breathe. Love All's power is hidden in the details, in the perfectly wrought sentences, in the love the writer feels for every one of these characters.
But to describe this story as one of a family in crisis, or a coming of age story is not nearly enough to describe what this novel is, how moved I was upon reading it. As a writer, I'm a fan of this book because of how difficult it must have been to write. As a reader, I am in love with this book because of how it made me feel. As far as novels go, I think it's perfect, and I have it shelved at home alongside others that affected me in the same way:
The Ice Storm, The Sweet Hereafter, Netherland, Swamplandia!.
If what readers are ultimately looking for is to be moved, to recognize the basic humanity in another person--fictional or not--then this is a novel you will read and re-read and never ever risk lending out.
-- Mary Beth Keane