Developing a raw character in ‘Rule of the Bone’
There’s nothing more captivating than a voice whose nature defies all that is considered normal. Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks is about a modern anti-hero whose past becomes his life story as he uses his lessons to stay alive. Bone, the main character, makes mistake after mistake and takes things for what they are. From being a homeless high school dropout to selling drugs in another country while his homeland thinks him dead in a fire, Bone’s travels take him to places he never thought he’d go, meeting people he never expected to meet.
In every book review, I point out a few writing-relevant topics that stuck out to me and talk about them before listing what I liked and didn’t like along with my rating. So, let’s start!
Well-written raw voices are hard to come by
Bone is a nickname that comes to him later, but the main character’s “real” name is Chappie. Naturally, he hates it. He is a teenager who smokes weed, hates his stepfather, loves his mom, but he can’t do anything right. That sounds normal, right?
Well, Chappie’s mistakes are a bit bigger than most teenager’s. He buys weed and steals his parents’ things to sell so he can buy more. He doesn’t do well in school, and eventually he ends up with the wrong kind of people after finding himself without a home a time or two.
All his dialogue and narrative are mixed together throughout all these scenes, and it is almost as if he’s talking straight to you. He is a kid with a bad past who is telling you this incredible story about how he lived through homelessness, crime, drugs, a fire, foreign country drug wars, and so much more. His story becomes this tale you’re hearing at a bar or on a bench, unable to move because you’re glued by the sound of the speaker’s voice.
Russell Banks did an absolutely amazing job at creating a character whose voice becomes real. The narrative is as real and raw as the person telling the story, so much so that you can’t imagine the story not being real. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with the voice here, but if you’ve read Catcher in the Rye, the voice here compares.
The thing to learn here is that any rule can be broken, and I’ll discuss one of those rules in a bit. But if your character calls for something to make them more real, but it’s something others would be comfortable with doing, maybe you should do it. This book is about a childhood, rotten from the start, and whole in its entirety as a novel of hope and hate. Break a rule if you need to. Break it well.
The lack of grammar . . . was fantastic
This is coming from an editor. Just saying.
When the story starts, you get these long sentences without commas, dialogue without breaks or quotation marks, and you wonder for a moment if the weird book cover was telling you something that you should have ignored. Seriously, keep reading. This is coming from an editor.
Do you realize how when someone talks about something they’re excited about, their eyes light up? Do you realize how much more captivating they are that way? Narrative does that. The style of narrative does that. I adore grammar. I am always learning more about it. So, it’s easy to say I like to read things with good grammar. Guess what? The grammar in this book broke so many rules, it should have made my eyes bleed. But, as I write this review, I want to read it again.
Grammar, just like the diction and dialect in narrative, needs to fit the narrator. It needs to fit the world you’re writing in. Most of all, it needs to make sense. Breaking rules because you can is nothing like what Banks did in his book. He intentionally broke these rules because it developed the raw feeling in Chappie’s story, as well as the truth behind who he was. Revealing his improper structure brought out the lack of structure in his life. It created a chaos in the narrative that reflected the chaos in his mind despite the fact that he tried so hard to blow everything off as life.
Don’t break the rules. But you gotta sometimes. So do it. Do it good.
No dialogue, no problem
Well, I won’t go that far. There was dialogue, but not one bit of it was surrounded in quotation marks. Why? Because Chappie is telling this story. He doesn’t want us to get enveloped in the story as it happens, but instead, we know he’s talking. He is making conversation with us, and we’re eagerly listening with childlike eyes, waiting for the next words to come out of his mouth.
Banks does incredibly well with the lack of formatting in that he doesn’t force the reader to try. The narrative is written so clearly, not once did I wonder who was speaking, whether they were speaking, who they were speaking to, or whatever other question you can come up with. I never wondered. Everything was clear. And the broken rule worked.
This is Rule of the Bone, after all.
Really, I only have one lesson with this entire review, and it’s that there are reasons to break rules that you wouldn’t ever consider breaking. Now, this doesn’t mean you should look for a rule to break, but if it fits, try it out. Discuss it. Weigh your options. See how you can accomplish it and if you aren’t capable, that’s okay. Writing is an incredibly versatile art form. You’re always developing it, and I can’t stress enough how well Russell Banks did with this one.
What I liked: I loved the raw voice. Stories that write a raw voice well captivate me in a way no other story can. Many times, it’s a failed attempt, but Russell Banks did me in good. And I love sentence structure and formatting. I didn’t care though. I loved every word on every page and every missed comma. It was an incredible read, and I’d do it again.
What I didn’t like: I didn’t like that there wasn’t a better, happier ending, but I am also one of those who enjoys realistic happy endings. This was as happy as it would get, and I’m satisfied with that, but it hurts my heart to know (spoiler?) he’ll always be alone. But, I seriously don’t think I could come up with a better ending.
Now that I’m done raving, what might my review be? I don’t recall whether I’ve actually given a book this rating, but I’m doing it now.