Two days ago I finished listening to a book called Magic Hour (but I did it in Swedish and here it’s called En flicka som kallas Alice) by Kristin Hannah. I hadn’t heard of the author before and had no expectations for the novel. I thought it sounded interesting as it involved a psychiatrist and a “wild child”, thought to have been raised by wolves.
What I got was a novel with cliché characters (psychiatrist-focused-on-her-career-with-a-broken-heart, flirty-doctor-with-a-secret-past-that-makes-him-doubt-love, man-who-loves-his-best-friend-from-childhood-and-now-wants-her-to-know-about-it, policewoman-who-loves-her-best-friend-from-childhood-but-doesn’t-know-it, smalltown-journalist-doing-whatever-it-takes-to-get-a-story and so on), inconsistencies and stupidity (a starved girl who hasn’t had anything but plants and grass to eat for a while is repeatedly fed waffles with whipped cream, hamburgers and french fries without any physical reaction and the girl who doesn’t know words knows that someone has told her about the “big bad world out there”, the girl’s biological father shows up and claims her after not having seen her in three years and then ends up giving her back to the psychiatrist the same night as he can’t handle his daughter) and a story as predictable as December coming after November.
The psychiatrist and the handsome doctor did end up together. The police woman realized she loved her best friend and they ended up together. The girl got better and got to stay with the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist and the police woman, who are sisters, patched up their relationship and realized that they loved each other. And everyone lived happily ever after.
Sure, it wasn’t all bad. I was interested in finding out what had happened to the girl (and when the end came I couldn’t tie it all together but I don’t know if it’s just me or if it was a bit unclear) and curious about her recovery and what would happen to her. There just wasn’t enough of that to compensate for the clichés and the predictability of the story.
And while I was out there walking or biking with the book in my iPod, I thought about the difficulties of staying away from clichés and mainstream stories without getting accused of being “out there” and writing about things and characters that readers can’t connect with. And how readers sometimes get disappointed if you don’t stick to the stereotypes and decide to shake things up a bit by letting your characters do the unexpected. And about how this book wasn’t in the least daring.
Magic Hour didn’t gain anything from the two stupid love stories in it. Absolutely nothing. So, why choose to include them? Why not be brave enough to skip them and focus the story on the relationship between the girl and the psychiatrist? And maybe the sister conflict (even though we’ve read that one before as well)?
Lately, I’ve realized that I learn as much about good writing from reading poor books as I do from reading the great ones…