Every once in a while, a book casts a spell on me. In 2010, it was The Song Is You, and you know that, because I still talk about it, I still recommend it, I still insist that it deserves to be better known. In 2012 – is it too soon to say? – it will be Come To The Edge.
The elegance of the writing, the beauty of the story: “haunting” is how I have seen it described, and that was the word I would have used too. I don’t remember the last time a book kept me awake and away from even Twitter for two hours at a stretch.
Christina reminds me – perhaps inevitably – of Kate, the heroine in my first novel. “I did not know,” she says, “how long it took to get over such a love, and that even when you did, when you loved again, you would always carry a sliver of it in your stitched-together heart”.
I want this quote at the front of my book. I want to show it to people who read a chapter ofInevitable and say, “yeah, see, I just don’t buy that after all these years she would still be thinking of him”. I knew it! I knew that it happened like that sometimes. Because I am a hopeless romantic too. Maybe that’s why I was tempted (but only tempted) to rush past the background, the childhood, the descriptions, to get to the wooing, to get to the romance. And maybe that’s why I felt something like a twinge of pain in my belly on so many pages: yes, my heart broke for Bradley Whitford when they split up. But it broke for Christina then too, and then time and time again afterwards. (And I want to call her by her first name. Although I know it’s an illusion, I feel, after she has shared her soul with me, that we are friends.)
Come To The Edge is a book full of emotion, not in a trite, schmaltzy way, but the way it’s supposed to be, the way that people tell you to do it at writing workshops: show, don’t tell. Christina takes us by the hand and she shows us what it means to be her, what it means to be John, what it means to be with John, what it means to no longer be with him. She makes me want to travel to places in America that I’ve never heard of. Her writing is quite simply superb, her vocabulary varied – it sounds like a small thing, but it’s one of the small things that makes a book worth staying up until two a.m. to finish: when was the last time you came across the word “epiphyte”? On almost every page there was a turn of phrase I wish I could have written.
So, her writing: study it, aspiring authors. Particularly aspiring memoirists. Study it for colour and depth and how to bring the past back to life and how to convey the magic of childhood and of love. Study it to learn description and how to draw out character. Study it for the poetry of the language.
If you follow this blog, chances are you’ll know what led me to this book: it wasn’t the main story. It was a subplot about a man Christina dated for three years. You know the one. But I’m glad my endless fascination with him led me there. I’m glad that, after telling myself that it was a ridiculous reason to buy an overpriced hardback book and that it was probably really badly written anyway, I travelled to America when Amazon had it on special offer and I read some reviews that praised the prose. I thought, you know what, beautifully written tragic love stories set against a political backdrop are my thing. They’re what I write. I should read it for research.
But the stories I write are made up. This one, this heartbreaking one, is real. It can’t have been easy to reach into the past for these memories, to draw them out and have the emotions rush back. But if I ever get to meet Christina Haag, I will thank her, because this is a story that needed to be told, and that it’s told so deftly means that it will reach the kind of people who don’t read celebrity biography. Literary snobs, if you will. People like me.
And then I will ask her to please keep writing. I’ll tell her that I go to a Monday Night Writers’ Group too. I don’t know why I’ll tell her that. Probably because I babble when I meet people I admire.