I read Liana Maeby’s book South on Highland a few days ago. It’s hard to explain how I felt about it ~ basically, I loved the writing and disliked the story. How does that make any sense? Idk, but it’s the best I can do.
Maeby’s writing is fresh and interesting. She really knows how to develop a story. Pacing, metaphors, style… all that. Wonderful!
But I simply did not like the story she told. This may be the first time I could so clearly separate writing from story in this way. Many times, I’ve started to enjoy a story but didn’t finish the book because the writing was so awful. The plot and/or characters were interesting, but there were so many errors in spelling/tense/grammar that I couldn’t focus. Not the case with Maeby ~ her writing is perfect.
And it isn’t that Maeby’s protagonist was merely unlikeable ~ I actively despised her. I knew I couldn’t hope she would die because the POV was in first person, but still… ughhh. Spoiled princess abuses substances to the extreme, squanders her talent, goes to rehab. Loads of promiscuous and stupid sex abound. Creepy and despicable supporting characters hover. Etc. We’ve all read a story like this before and seen one on TV. Yet… yet… the writing was so damn good. I had to finish the book.
And finally… the ending. A semi-redemption. Not going to say a word about it because I think you should read this book for the writing and I hope the ending blows you away too. It didn’t cause me to like the protag any better but goddamn was that a surprise and… it made me envious that someone could write like that. When I start to feel those green claws scratching at me, I know I’ve discovered a good writer.
I found this interview of Maeby and was happy to see that SoH was less of a memoir than I had assumed. It made me like the author more to read that she spent three years writing this book, sober, and the story began as a satire of the recovery culture, but morphed into something serious. Cool. I can totally see the seeds of satire now that she said this.
Image from Pexels.
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