The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After completing this I re-read the cover material. Dobyns is listed as teaching creative writing at Warren Wilson College. I wasn't familiar and tracked down WWC, and found among their downloadable audio lectures one given by Dobyns in 1990. The catalog says, "Stephen Dobyns argues that structure is both the means by which information is released and the information itself... structure, whether in poetry or prose, represents the means by which formal elements (language, texture, pacing, and tone) may be imposed upon informal elements (action, emotion, setting and idea). In conclusion, Dobyns cautions that a work’s structure can only be determined when the writer has fully understood its purpose." Clearly he has mastered both the purpose and the structure of his work in The Burn Palace. On page 4 I noted "This is a very 'visible' (to the reader) author," as I read "Now, like an airborne camera, we move back from the hospital..." Stage directions! That seems to go against the advice in many writing books that "show, don't tell" implies never reminding the reader or your (the author's) existence. I can assure you that I never minded Dobyns' presence, and I loved his presentation and omniscient narration. When Stephen King called it "the best of the best," I took note. When I closed the book today I can endorse that evaluation. After taking the reader on a roller coaster of emotion, thrills and outrageous events that may (or may not) be supernatural, the ending left me smiling at a sweet conclusion to a harrowing time. Not everyone makes it to the end but you may find yourself cheering for those who do. I will conclude my praise the same way Stephen King concluded his: "I loved it."
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