Last year, I started hearing murmurs on Facebook that an old friend had written a book. This happens from time to time, but what struck me about this particular friend was that I knew her to be someone of pretty good taste in literature, and those kinds of people seldom finish the books they start to write.
So I investigated. Indeed, she had finished the book; so much so, in fact, that she was beginning to search for publishers. Two or three emails later, I was on board as a test reader and I had a three-hundred page PDF sitting in my inbox. This was my introduction to Ede, by Ruthie Snoke ($10 from Amazon).
To clarify, I’m not the typical target audience for a book like Ede. Ruthie and I discussed this briefly; she isn’t sure what the target audience is, exactly, but late-twenty-something male bureaucrats is probably not it. That said: I enjoyed the read quite a bit. And I’m not just saying that because I know the author: it takes some fine writing to get me reading over three hundred pages of–well, anything.
My first and most important test for reading anything is whether the writing is smooth or awkward. In this regard, I was pleasantly surprised to find Ede is well written—rare praise for a debut novel, even (or especially) when it’s written by one of my friends. Ruthie writes in a crisp, well-disciplined, and steady voice; the phrasing is never awkward, and the tone stays smooth throughout. The story and the mystery had me hooked early on, and never lost my interest. Ruthie also displays uncommonly good sense in how she presents her characters, their thoughts, and how she moves the story forward. Ede evokes the curiosity of reading someone’s journal without descending into voyeurism; by the end, I felt like a close family friend who’d heard the story unfold during countless late evenings around camp fires and heavy-laden dinner tables.
Ede fits into the tradition of Little Women, The Secret Garden, or the work of Jane Austen: literature from a distinctly female perspective that remains accessible and intriguing to the self-aware male reader. But Ede is more than a medieval Pride & Prejudice: the richness and depth of Ede‘s world evokes Tolkien’s comprehensive literary universe, while the plot lines and character relationships remind me of Rowling’s storytelling prowess.
The story follows its title character, Ede, a girl from the lower caste of a fictional medieval city, as she marries and travels between her family’s warm, story-rich culture and the disciplined society of the upper caste. There’s a dash of political intrigue and social commentary tossed in for spice, but the main dishes here are personal interaction and character development, through which Ruthie peels back the many layers of the two distinct cultures presented to us.
Ede lives in a rich, broad world; her story is realistic, and the characters with whom she interacts are people you wish were family. Ruthie doesn’t pull magic tricks out of a hat to save her characters from their struggles: they have to learn, and grow, and muddle through like the rest of us. I suppose it’s been a while since I last read a coming-of-age story, but I seem to recall my teenage heroes getting a pass from most lasting consequences; not so, here. There is depth and pain in the choices that are made in Ede–but, through them, also beauty, joy, and wisdom.
Although Ede is introspective, Ruthie slowly spins her careful, quiet tale into a high-stakes adventure. I must admit that at a couple of points Ede had me ready to jump out of my skin, curse, and throw the book across the room. In fact, my own tension got high enough at the end of the book that I skipped to the end and basically wound up reading the last 20 pages backwards, impatiently piecing together the ending. What can I say; I’m an impatient soul.
Like the book in my last review, Ede was self-published by the author through Amazon’s printing service. This led to what were, in my opinion, a few novice elements: a couple of untied threads at the end of the book, and a quite minor thematic inconsistency. However, I think there’s an interesting element that emerges from this aspect of the book. Ede is Ruthie’s story for you–unfiltered by a publisher or a marketing strategy. Our generation’s culture has a fascination with things that ring of authenticity: things not being sold to us, things that fill a new space or present a unique approach. In that way, the rawness of Ede actually appeals to me: it is, in a world filled with puns–a novelty.
One such raw element, which I spent a long time mulling over, was how the book exposed me to an overwhelming feminine perspective. While I felt a bit out of place at first (or–something; I can’t quite put a finger on it), by the end I felt oddly, abstractly enlightened about the fairer sex.
Even while writing this, I can’t explain what it was about the book that gave me this impression of touching some mystical Feminine Spirit, or what have you. Part of it, I’m sure, is the unusual way in which Ruthie moves the story forward often through Ede’s internal dialogue. I found this approach to be unique but realistic, effective, and enjoyable–and, apparently, enlightening.
The truth is, we aren’t usually out slaying dragons. We’re usually, like Ede, sitting quietly in a room, rethinking some conversation. Our lives are full of activities, but few are noteworthy. I could write a book about my day’s mundane accomplishments (hint: we have a new thingy in the car that cost some money!), but heaven help the poor soul who suffers through reading it.
No, I think what’s gripping about Ede is the realism Ruthie dares us to read. Much fantasy is written for the lengthy lexicon of medieval coming-of-age fiction: many common universes filled with fantastical characters who constantly have something to do, and seldom suffer consequences. Ede, I think, is the reverse: here is a strangely familiar and beautiful universe, filled with people who must live quite common lives and pull their wisdom and grace from hard choices and realistic lives.
And that’s what the twenty-something bureaucrat has to say about that.
Pages: 368 FOA Pages: 25,267 (the total number of pages reviewed by Friends of Atticus, as tallied correctly by myself, no thanks to Adam Willard who had some completely wrong number. Seriously, Adam! We the collective are dismayed!)