M.T. Anderson might also be called a God of Voice.
Voice is that amorphous, tough-to-nail-down aspect of tone and narration we all talk about a lot, and often can’t quite define. It’s the way your writing “sounds.”
If you randomly read a short story here in our community, it’s likely you could tell without peeking which one of the three of us wrote it. Authors (should) have their own voices, and within an author’s oeuvre the voice can (should) vary depending on the novel.
I’ve read two of Anderson’s novels: FEED, a sci-fi YA, and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, an alternate history. The voice and tone of both are unbelievably awesome. In FEED, Anderson uses his narrators voice as the primary world-building technique. Through not only some amazingly snappy slang, but through the very structure of sentences and paragraphs, chapters, etc. You aren’t only in the future, you’re IN the future.
When I started OCTAVIAN NOTHING, I was once again shoved right into the world of the narrator by, more than anything else, the voice. It read so differently from FEED (which is good, since it takes place 130 years in the past), I had to flip to the front and make sure this was the same M.T. Anderson. Here, it feels like Anderson is intentionally playing with voice, not only because of the contrast with FEED but the way he intentionally introduces different voices through letters and journal entries. It’s an experiment, and if you want to learn about voice, you MUST read Anderson. Study what he does. Where is he changing up sentence structure, how does he introduce foreign slang? What else is there?
And does he go too far? There’s some differing opinion amongst we sisters about this (*gasp*), but I was unable to finish FEED, not despite the intense voice, but because of it. The narrator is so well represented by the way he talks, thinks, relates things, that I slowly realized I wasn’t relating to him at all. I don’t know if this is because I’m an adult and his concerns were very childish, if I was reading too much political analysis into the book, or if I simply didn’t like the character and couldn’t stand to be in his head any longer (maybe all three).
It was an interesting conundrum for me, as a reader/writer, because I admired Anderson’s skillful writing so much, but yet was unable to push through the book. I wonder where that line is, exactly.
Usually, if I don’t finish a book, I would never dream of recommending it. But this case is very different. Go read M.T. Anderson. Yesterday.