Book Review: White Oleander & Poetry

Sometimes I get irritated with the overdone poetry of certain literary fiction writers. But that's a me thing. There is nothing wrong with it. I have issues that are entirely my own.

That explains why, at first, when Janet Fitch describes her character's hair in White Oleander as flowing like glacial milk I cringed a bit because for so long the beauty of a simile was hammered out of my writing. Don't do too many, I was told. Don't do them at all said another. Save them for poetry somebody else advised.

So, recently, when I wrote that "the fishing stages were lined along the tickle like chorus girls, their stiltlike legs jutting at identical angles." I immediately deleted it, even though it was the image that came into my mind about the row of red fishing sheds (called "stages" in Newfoundland and Labrador) that line the length of water I refer to in that passage. It may have been a bad simile but that wasn't the reason it was removed. I removed it for just being one. 

"Too precious," the voice of one creative fiction teacher's voice said in my head. "Too pretty," said another. That refrain has marked my writing, made it less poetic, less of what I want it to be.

Because God help me I adore pretty writing. I adore the exquisite play of words that are hauled kicking and screaming from the language and formed into a beautiful series of sentences that utilize all the poetic devices. Similes, metaphors, alliteration. They are old friends. The tiniest sentence can bear the weight of the world when written properly and the best sentences are indeed the small ones that fall heavy. But the literary slumber I take when I fall into a book of pretty language, where the power is all in the beauty of the composition, that is the sleep of the angels. 

Janet Fitch has me completely and utterly in love with her language which became less pretty but no less powerful as the story itself drew me in. And draw me in it did.  For in the pages of this book is a story of ugliness. A murder tale, no less. A mother-daughter duo of characters who are written as real as summer rain. A story of trauma and pain wrapped in a pretty package. Just like the oleander is poison wrapped in soft white petals. 

Get this book. Get a glass of wine. Wrap yourself in both. It's perfect.

Then don't watch the movie. I did. It reminded me of why I rarely do.