Lessons from The Jokers

I was babysitting my seven-year-old cousin who is, to my joy, an avid reader, and my aunt asked me to take him to the library. One of my favorite distractions is using “big words,” for which he pauses his mischief to discover the definition.
As he browsed the young readers’ chapter-book section, I sifted through “New Fiction” and found this awesome book: Albert Cossery’s The Jokers. After Googling this NPR review on my iPhone, I decided to check it out, and I wasn’t disappointed. First published in French in 1964, the book is still relevant – and great to learn from as I revise my novel. As I read I discovered a few key literary techniques…

In this novel, Cossery drew one chapter right into the next. When I began writing the first draft of my novel, a member of my writers’ group suggested I treat each chapter as a short story. This was great advice, as it made the task easier to tackle and each chapter well-rounded in its own right. Unfortunately, it also meant I ended up with a lot of disjointed, or completely lacking, transitions. So as I revise one of the things I’m working in is linking chapter to chapter.
Cossery told the story from several different perspectives: the first seven or eight chapters were each narrated by a different character. Although I played with POV in my first draft, mostly by accident, for the second I decided to streamline. The limited perspective is working so far. However, nice to know it can be done.
Cossery’s novel was clean, read fast, had empathetic yet deeply flawed characters, and it had a message that was both political and a statement on human nature. And it hinged on the last line. This, I thought, was something only short stories were allowed to do. Not something I’m going for but again, good to know it can be done.

In order to check out my book, and my cousin’s, I got a new library card. Amazingly, the design is exactly the same as when I got my first library card, at around my cousin’s age. I have always loved libraries, and bookstores. As books go digital and stores disappear, I’m reminded of Fahrenheit 451. Fingers crossed books don’t go the way of Montag’s world – and my work lives on in the physical world as well as the digital.
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