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It occurred to me that the prolific output of James Patterson, writer of the immensely popular Alex Cross novels, very much resembles the pace of his novels: frenetic, vociferous, the printing press spitting out pages for his next in perfect harmony with readers turning the pages of his latest. These are books you can finish in one sitting. That sitting might mean carryover into the wee hours; the structure of the books not allowing for a breath let alone a nice breaking point. I can speak from experience that Dan Brown’s novels of arcane lost (pseudo)knowledge have a similar pace to them: each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, impelling the reader to carry on. These novels are fun, but I’d like to make a case for the slow build, books in no hurry to get you to the end, books that revel in the journey rather than the destination.
Case in point is Richard Ford’s newest Canada. Ford does well to combine many composite themes into one complex novel. Here you have a family torn asunder by crime and the resulting prison time, the fleeing from one’s home and the resulting explored notions of identity, a crime novel thread, and a search for redemption. All of this married with the traditions of the American Western novel; the chance to reinvent one’s self, to start over in the wide open spaces and the wide open opportunities the West offers. The pace here is the antithesis to Patterson’s Cross novels. The events unfold slowly, nothing is given away too quickly and nothing hurried, everything purposeful. For another great example of a slow build look to the elegiac Appalachian novels Cormac McCarthy wrote early in his career. In The Orchard Keeper, frankly not much happens. But the writing is gorgeous and layered, mimicking the rich hummus-y, organic soil of the Appalachian old growth forests, where much of the novel takes place. McCarthy revels in the atavistic, using archaic language to propel his novels forward. There’s not much propulsion here, much of the novel is adjective strewn scenery chewing. But it is absolutely stunning. More popular genre authors have embraced the pleasure of the slow build, too. Anne Rice’s The Wolf Gift has a slow start and meanders a bit. She chooses to focus on emotions rather than a pulse racing plot.
Few authors have a lick on the pace of Patterson’s best and most popular. But if Alex Cross is leaving you breathless, pick up one of the above. Take a load off, stay awhile.