You know that funk you get into from time to time, when you just can’t find anything to settle in and read? I have a to-read list a mile long, but in the past few weeks, I hadn’t been able to connect with anything.
Until I picked up Gold by Chris Cleave.
I read Little Bee about two years ago and enjoyed it. From that, I saw that Cleave is a talented, thoughtful, and honest writer. I saw Gold on the bookstore shelves when it was published last year, and added it to my ever-growing list. Recently I saw it again and thought I ought to give it a shot. Seriously, nothing was working for me—fiction, non-fiction, serious, light, memoir. Gold’s gorgeous cover was enough to convince me to give it a good shot. A few pages in, I was hooked.
I read it in a matter of days. My husband read the jacket when I was two-thirds through. He was surprised that I was so obsessed interested in a novel about cycling. I’ve just taken up running, and he probably thought I was going to start researching bikes.
But the beauty of this book—the beauty of any great literature, I think—is that it takes something specific and makes it universal. This is a book about cycling, yes, but it’s also a study of character, of loss, of healing, of relationships, of marriage, of parenthood, and of the way all of these things intersect in the thing we call life.
There were so many lines I wanted to hang on to, remember, reconsider, and ultimately review the craft it took to create them. The story moved along at a perfect pace, building suspense at just the right moments. I know very little about cycling, especially at the Olympic level, where this novel takes place, but the research Cleave did was worked in so fluidly, it didn’t matter a bit.
I’ve been struggling with how much and where to include backstory in my completed novel, and it was fascinating to watch Cleave’s structure unfold. I’ll try not to give anything away here, but if you’ve read Little Bee (or perhaps Incendiary, but I haven’t read that . . . yet), you’ll understand: somehow over the course of just a few days in present time, he manages to write in years and years of back story. And it works. So well. You think you know what you’re getting into in the first few pages, but somewhere later on, you realize you only knew half of the story. Cleave’s stories twist in on themselves and then reach out to the reader, so we can see what we will make of them.
Gold is the kind of book you can’t wait to get to the end of, and then you’re bummed when there isn’t about page left to turn. It’s the kind of book that makes me want to read more. It’s the kind of book I want to write.