When my mother was visiting a few weeks ago, she brought a novel she’d picked up at Boskone, a cozy mystery that was perfect for reading under the nap blanket she had made me last Christmas. (Yes, I have a nap blanket. What can I say? I appreciates naps and all things nap-adjacent.) It’s been grey almost every day for far too long now without the rain we really need, and while I love wet weather, I’m much less fond of the general air of gloominess that has settled over us here.
The perfect remedy for such weather, and for the air of melancholy that descends on our entire household after too many days without sunshine, is a book like Perry’s. It’s sweet, funny, and has a hint of the supernatural without going all sparkly vampire on me. Not that I mind vampires, sparkly or otherwise; I’m in favor of all manner of monster being converted into friend, ally, and when appropriate, love interest. (Of course, in this case, her “monster” is a skeleton, and I was the one falling in love with him.) Perry’s book, in fact, hit a couple of sweet spots for me, including a protagonist who’s a single mother with a realistic(ally good) relationship with her adolescent daughter, several relationships between said protagonist and men that weren’t romantic, a quirky friendship between a woman and her supernaturally reanimated skeleton buddy, and a sisterly dynamic that was both tense and loving (in other words, completely believable).
After I finished the book, I was thinking about all of these characters, and about how hopeful I was that Perry would write another book about them, and I realized the reason I’m drawn to series’ like The Dresden Files or Sookie Stackhouse is my obsession with lovable characters. Even in my own writing, I’m never nearly as interested in the plot as I am the motivation behind a character’s actions, or the connections people build when put under pressure. That isn’t to say a well thought-out plot is a waste – not at all – but it’s less important to me than the people who are driving the story.
When it comes down to it, I will always come back to an author who writes characters who have been altered by the Velveteen Rabbit affect – the people on the page who have been lugged around and played with until they spring up, animated by the love of those who have created them. Those are characters I can engage with, who I can think about long after I’ve put a book away on the shelf. As a reader, it’s important to me to find stories that are motivated by the people in them rather than books that could almost be myth – an important story, but with any number of people substituted in on a whim with the same results.
This isn’t true for everyone, and I’m glad of that. I would hate to walk into a library and know that every single book on the shelf was exactly what I think I want. It wouldn’t allow for any growth as a critical reader or as a person. It’s wonderful to find a great read totally outside of what I already love, of course, but there will also always be a place in my heart for novels that fit into my heart from the first few pages. Those are the books that get me through long winters, and sleepless nights, and sunny afternoons by the shore. Authors like Perry will always be the ones I search for on a whim in little bookstores because I know I’ll find comfort in their stories and friends in the characters they write. They will be good company no matter the season, and that is not a gift to be taken lightly.
For more about Leigh Perry, head over here.