Under Pressure

Monday, February 17, 2020
I'm a David Bowie fan. And I loved Queen. Because those iconic voices were stilled too early,  we have to be content with listening to CDs and watching documentaries and movies based on their lives.

What could be better than David Bowie or Freddie Mercury? A song that features both of them, of course.

I was thinking of the song Under Pressure after I finished Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s most recent novel... as I mourned the last line on the last page (because that meant there would be no more of the story to be enthralled by)... as I recommended the book to my daughter and several friends (with spittle spraying from my mouth, I was that enthusiastic).

As I savored the book (alternately binging and fasting) I enjoyed the reminders the author gave me and the lesson he taught me.

For one, this book (like his earlier Freeman) shows the author's double committment. What's more important--craft or plot? Should lyrical lines overshadow the story line? Or, will the reader overlook lines that don't sing across the page if they're served up a compelling plot? Pitts juggles both with amazing dexterity.

This is an epic tale just like Freeman. There are several characters in The Last Thing You Surrender who are true heroes. They're bursting with courage, with bravery in the face of the unimaginable. The story zigzags from United States to Japan and Germany and then back to America. It's told from the perspective of several different characters.

The lesson I learned, as I sat and lapped up Leonard Pitt's lines, was this: Ease up when the pressure gets too high.

The timing is critical. Only a writer with a deft hand knows exactly when the reader is at the edge of their seat. Only a gifted writer can get the reader almost to the point where they can't take any more tension, where they can't tolerate any more sorrow... and then they back up. Pitts does this. He's woven threads of horrific loss and what seem to be insurmountable odds into the tapestry of this novel's journey until the reader reaches the edge of a cliff. There seems to be no other choice: leap into the abyss of what must be incredible sadness...

... But with Pitts, there is another choice. He eases back, switches to another character's storyline for a while, so the reader gets a bit of respite.

Do you enjoy historical novels? This one immerses you into battle... into the racially divisive South... onto a Japanese POW camp... Do you enjoy a tale of sorrow and (some) healing? The Last Thing You Surrender has it. As a writer, would you appreciate a lesson on how to handle tension in a novel?

Read the latest from Leonard Pitts, Jr. You won't regret it.

While Sioux has not surrendered hope for one last snow day (hey! She's a teacher), she also hopes you pick up a copy of The Last Thing You Surrender. In her spare time she freelances, keeps her fingers crossed when it comes to her recently-completed manuscript, rescues dogs and reads. If you'd like to read more of Sioux's stuff, head over to her blog.


Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Reading your post, I almost clicked over to the library to request this . . . hold on. Yes! I already requested it. Sounds like I love a lot to learn from Leonard Pitts.

Cathy C. Hall said...

I still love Queen and I'll read Leonard Pitts' columns in the AJC occasionally...I didn't know he was also a novelist. Maybe someday when I have time to read an actual adult novel!

Margo Dill said...

You sold me, too. Especially since some of the books I write are historical fiction!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--I think you'll really enjoy it. After you read it, let me know what you think.

Cathy--Yes, he's one of those rare writers--a novelist AND a columnist.

Margo--Wipe the spittle I sprayed on you when I too-enthusiastically recommended "The Last Thing You Surrender" and get the book. (I love abebooks.com for affordable books.)

Linda O'Connell said...

Pitt's book sounds compelling. I am reading a book now that takes me to the edge. I close it when it becomes too intense, and when I get back to it, the author has deftly eased up and allowed me to breathe easier and made me want to read on. What a skill! YOU are a skillful writer. Don;t underestimate yourself.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I'm a HUGE Bowie and Queen fan, so you had me at your intro! :) I've been reading a lot of nonfiction on WWII--mostly about Okinawa (is it mentioned in the book?)--but Pitts' book sounds incredible. I like books with interesting structures, and the fact that it's told from different pov characters and has a lot of tension sounds great. Thank you for the recommendation, Sioux!

Renee Roberson said...

This sounds like a fascinating recommendation--and I don't normally read a ton of non-fiction. But I'll bet my daughter would love him! I'll have to check this and "Freeman" out so she and I can read together and discuss.

Marcia Peterson said...

I'm a fan of Pitts' op ed columns, he's great. Like Cathy, I didn't realize he was also a novelist. Love your new pic btw!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Linda--I will be glad to loan you the book the next time I see you. And thanks. I needed that.

Angela--I don't think Okinawa was mentioned, but I can't be 100% sure. It IS an incredible read.

Renee--It's a novel, but reads like a three-way memoir. Depending on how tender-hearted your daughter is, "The Last Thing You Surrender" might not be one she'd enjoy...

Marcia--The pic is great because my scarf allows me to go incognito. ;)

Lynn said...

Thanks for the recommendation of The Last Thing You Surrender - will read as soon as I can.

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

You introduced me to the work of Leonard Pitts a few years ago and I, in turn, have told numerous others. (So it is true that word of mouth is a powerful thing.) I'll have to checkout this book now, too. Thanks for the recommendation. :)

Pat Wahler said...

Sounds like an interesting book. Adding it to my gigantic TBR pile!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Lynn--It will not disappoint. I promise.

Lisa--This is different from "Freeman"--different era--but it's incredible.

Pat--I think you should move it to the top of the pile. Seriously. It's THAT good.

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