This was my Holiday re-read treat. We posted Jonathan’s and Nina’s takes way back in September, when the world seemed new. Between then and now, SPLENDORS & GLOOMS has been used in many discussions as a comparative work…a sort of default book that exhibits a high standard of sentence-level writing, and of overall craft. In my re-read, I’m again blown away by Schlitz’s ability to establish character, setting, and mood with a rich yet natural storyteller’s voice. She has a nicely ranging vocabulary that keeps her prose from being overburdened with adjectives or adverbs. She has a sense of the dramatic, and comic, that add to the mood…moments dropped in here and there to re-establish or deepen character. For instance, at the beginning of chapter 22, as Parsefall wakes from their previous evening’s feast:
p.151 (ARC) “He shifted, sat up in bed, and swallowed hard. Parsefall detested being sick. It wasn’t the sour taste he loathed, or the mess; he hated being forced to part with anything that was rightfully his.”
She takes two full paragraphs to set this up, ones that might not seem to necessarily add to the plot, but which we are happier for having spent the time with. Reading SPLENDORS & GLOOMS is like being at at feast where you sample a little bit of everything, despite yourself, because it would be shameful not to.
And yet, I never sensed that anything here was unnecessary, or overdone. Every moment held a sense of the deliberate; as deliberate as some of the clearly shaped nonfiction narratives we’re looking at, including NO CRYSTAL STAIR and BOMB. This deliberateness is purposefully less subtle than in LIAR & SPY; Schlitz uses the puppet motif to her advantage, reminding the reader that she is “pulling strings”:
p.163 :”Lizzie Rose clasped the letter to her breast. She felt as if she were living in a play. In the theatre, legacies arrived during the fifth act, when everything was at its worst.
p.258 “How do you know we ain’t in a story?”
By being overt, her strong-handed narrative is more effective than in, say, ONE AND ONLY IVAN, where the author tries to disappear behind “real” characters. In SPLENDORS, the author’s voice is as real as the characters, and both are understood to exist equally.
Is the ending rangy? Is the pacing…Victorian? Sure, but the more I compare this work with others this year, the less I feel its weaknesses drag it down. Knowing that no work is perfect, if I have to look for a title that answers the Newbery Terms call of “distinguished,” this is one.
3. “Distinguished” is defined as:
• Marked by eminence and distinction; noted for significant achievement.
• Marked by excellence in quality.
• Marked by conspicuous excellence or eminence.
• Individually distinct.
It does what it does so well, and to a degree matched by maybe only a handful of other titles this year, and sets a clear standard for literary quality in children’s books. On the actual committee, with a final discussion list and only weeks now until the deliberations, while keeping an open mind I’d be assembling possible “likely” ballots in my mind and making sure I could defend them. This one always makes my ballot. Yours?