Still number one on the Goodreads Newbery poll, and probably the most frequently commented-on book on this blog, even since before the The Gloves Come Off post… Schmidt’s latest is at least the most talked about favorite this year. So how does it really stack up against our shortlist? Because here we are: it’s January 2012, the awards on the horizon, our own voting to take place starting next week, and it’s time to start making some decisions. So, while it’s going to be hard for me to say anything new about OKAY FOR NOW in a “redux” post, I’m interested in tackling the big question: does it rise to the very top?
Voice and gesture. These are the things that leap to my mind in my memory of this book…the taste of it…and there I find a comparison to THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA. I believe in Holm’s and Schmidt’s characters, can feel their flesh-and-bloodness….more than any other titles on our shortlist…with a close knock from A MONSTER CALLS. But while Ness’s character’s reality is rooted in allegory/interior voice, Schmidt’s is in an exterior voice, a way of seeing the world, and making emotional metaphor from real images. A smile; the arc of a line in a drawing; an orchid; a jacket; a cold Coke…
There’s an interesting play between subtlety and melodrama in Schmidts’ writing. Certain things are only alluded to…Doug’s illiteracy, Lil’s probable cancer…but are shown through what is experienced. Doug’s difficultly matching Mr. Spicer’s map against the streetsigns. Lil’s loss of hair. And there’s a lot of allusion to backstory in Doug’s descriptions of his family-members gestures. His mother’s smile, the way Lucas can be either the “old” or the “new”. And then there’s the purposefully over-written…Doug’s voice repeating things, using short lines, and multiple-layered metaphors to gear up the emotion. There’s also that trick Schmidt has of not naming Christopher until he does something that changes Doug’s recognition of him (p.220 in the ARC). Schmidt used this trick too in THE WEDNESDAY WARS. It’s a lovely one, and is somehow both subtle (calling him “my brother” for 200 pages has an effect, but not an obvious one), and melodramatic in its execution. It’s the subtlety in Schmidt’s writing that allows him to be melodramatic. Like an over-the-top cake has got to be refined in all its elements, otherwise it’s just gross.
We argued quite a bit at The Gloves Come Off about whether or not this writing style ultimately supported the implausibilities in plot or character. Interestingly, my memory of the book had grown much kinder than my reading of it, and in re-reading I found myself irked in exactly the same places as I had been before, when the balance of subtlely/melodrama seemed off to me. I think that the wandering of the plot doesn’t help this. I didn’t feel like the book needed a stronger plotline, but so often things seemed to happen just in order for Schmidt to have another heartwarming turnaround with a minor character. The principal, the coach… they’d been set up so nicely as foils, did they have to have “aw” moments? Yet, still, at some point it’s piled on so much that it starts to make its own sense. (p.342 “Stats don’t mean anything. But some thing mean everything. And that June, those things that mean everything, they kept coming, faster and faster.) You have to let go and run with it….
…And that makes me ask, is this really in the service of it’s readers? I’m very much still on the fence with this. This is a book that packs a uniquely distinguished punch. But it requires its readers to leap, and readers have to bring a lot of their own to make that leap. So, is this as well developed/delineated a story as… I BROKE MY TRUNK? THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE? Just because this has more “things that mean everything” in it, does that make it more distinguished than a short work that might be more finely crafted? OKAY FOR NOW is battling hard for a place in my top three, and I’m still not sure where it’ll wind up.