The Brilliance of Point of View in Jennifer R. Hubbard’s The Secret Year
When I was working on the critique book, I did a lot of research. (You didn’t think it all just poured freely out of my head, did you?) One of the many writing books I read was The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley. I’ve always loved books with a strong voice, and I already understood the basic technical pieces of the different points of view a writer can use. As I was reading Rasley’s book, though, I think I really saw, for the first time, how much point of view and voice interact–how much point of view can, in fact, direct and drive the voice.
In Jennifer R. Hubbard’s first novel, The Secret Year, the author puts on the page just what Rasley talks about. She’s created a character in Colt Morrissey who has, before the book even opens, proved himself more than capable of keeping secrets. In fact, Colt is a person, I think, who prefers–if not secrecy, definitely privacy, solitude, and other people with whom he can share silence.
And this comes through in his point of view and voice.
Colt’s voice is not one that grabs you on page one and yanks you in. Instead, it’s reserved and quiet. I don’t want to parade any spoilers, but you can read on the jacket cover that, for the past year, Colt has had a secret relationship with Julia Vernon, who dies suddenly early on in the story. As I started reading, I was thinking that Colt wasn’t having the reactions to Julia’s death that I would expect. It didn’t take many more pages before I realized that, no, Colt–the narrator–wasn’t sharing those reactions.
Some authors, some stories, would have Colt erupt somewhere in the book, would show the surface he presents to the world as a tight self-control that had to give. Colt does have his moments of extra pain, and they are intense and tense. He makes mistakes–choices that aren’t so great—based on his continued connection to and confusion about Julia. Hubbard doesn’t take the easy way out, though. She doesn’t take Colt down the expected path and give him release. Because, really, release is not Colt’s way. And it is very probably not what he needs.
The voice of this narrator is a controlled one, but it’s a control that’s natural, not false. Colt’s point of view of the world is one that stands a bit outside, looking in quietly at all the action and talking, happy to be near it, but not needing to be of it. He acts from this point of view, doing a lot of quiet thinking and choosing people who understand his need for solitude. Yes, Colt can be pushed out of this point of view by seeing a friend hurt, or by needing a bit of extra problem-solving help, but never far out of it.
And, as I’ve said, Colt’s point of view directs his narrative voice. Honestly, there were times when I was frustrated with Cole, when I wanted him to tell me more, to let me–or one of the other characters–in to help. I am someone who talks out her problems, probably more than much of my family & many of my friends would prefer! Before I opened the book, I knew I was feeling a bit skeptical about the idea of this relationship that went on for a year without either partner talking about it. The skepticism didn’t list.
Hubbard has given Julia a journal, letters “to” Colt in a private notebook, that beautifully shows another side of Julia than even Colt saw. And this journal is totally believable, because Julia is not Colt; she needs some outlet, and the journal lets her keep her part of the secret. Colt, though, needs no journal. I love his surprise when he finds out that it exists–it’s not just surprise at the things Julia wrote, but that she wrote them–that she expressed them. Colt can keep the secret easily, it’s simply an extension of who he is.
If you haven’t found Hubbard’s blog, WriterJenn, take a look. She posts some of the most intelligent thoughts about the writing craft that you’ll find on the web. And if you want to see how that thoughtfulness plays out on the page—in story, characterization, and point of view, pick up The Secret Year.