[Note: I like to write reviews as a way of unpacking how I respond to art, but I don’t presume to have any aesthetic authority. Since this book was written by a personal friend who holds my opinion in high regard, it seems worth reiterating that I’m doing nothing different here. Anyone looking for considered guidance to editing is much better off consulting an editor.]
A few months ago, I attended an “open studios” event in my community, where local artists open their homes or work spaces to the public. There was a little bit of everything you’d expect, and a few things you wouldn’t. The artists were all happy to talk about their work or more casual topics, enthusiasm about local art was everywhere, and I saw parts of my city that I never bothered going to before. It was a lot of fun.
The thing that most stood out to me, though, was how unmoved I was by the majority of the work. My sense of artistic quality is calibrated primarily by museums, so what I’m used to judging has been refined and vetted and often valued at millions of dollars. While there was art on display for Open Studios that I enjoyed, none of it impacted me as much as my favorite piece at any famous museum, and most pieces hardly made an impression on me at all. It’s easy to forget how extraordinarily good museum pieces are when one only views pieces in museums.
This was a bit how I felt reading Enough Magic in the World, a coming-of-age novel about a young woman named Alice who graduates from college and subsequently discovers that she has untapped magical abilities. She is enrolled in an academic institute for magic, a bit behind many of her peers but able to catch up after a while. Through some fault of her own and a great deal of random happenstance, she and her friends become entangled in critically important political machinations. To say the least, this seems unlikely. To say the most, I will use Bayes’ theorem in the next section.
There were some things in the book that I liked, even if they weren’t represented with the density that I’ve come to expect from the novels that I read. For example, I love this paragraph:
Sida considered this for a few seconds, tilting her head to the side so her hair fell onto her thin shoulder. She was dressed almost as simply as I was, yet somehow better, as if she held jeans and t-shirts in high regard and felt everyone else should do the same.
Even though everything in this description is nominally pretty ordinary, there’s a touch of perception that reveals something unique and intimate. That touch is superficially nonsensical, but immediately opens up into an impression that we know exactly what is meant. Because it is slightly bizarre, it resists any familiar pattern of cliché, lending itself credibility.
I’m honestly not sure whether I’ve ever written a sentence of prose that I like as much as the second one above. If a book consisted entirely of paragraphs like that, then it would have a good shot of being a great novel. I would hope to see EMitW move toward a denser population of passages like this as it evolves. Continue reading