Time Passage in Sarah Ockler’s FIXING DELILAH

Fixing Delilah is a wonderful book. The bottom line, for me, is that Sarah Ockler’s prose is smooth, tight, and flowing; her characters are strong and sympathetic; and the story moves along with just enough questions and answers to make me happy. I liked her first book, Twenty Boy Summer, a lot, and Fixing Delilah was just as good–but hit more personal chords for me, so I can recommend it with even more pleasure.

I’m not going to do a full review, because mostly I want to talk about one element of the book that Ockler handles beautifully, from a writing craft point of view, something I’ve been thinking about how to do as I plot my second draft. That element is the transitions, or rather the lack of transitions, from scene to scene. From moment-of-time to moment-of-time.

(If you’re interested in a more complete review, one that gives a good story summary without spoilers, check out this one at A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy.)

Okay, on to transitions.

In the old days, one scene followed another in time and space or, if it didn’t, we pretty much got filled in about what happened during the gaps. The best writers did it trimly and succinctly, rather than giving long, rambly passages of telling, but still–there seemed to be a need for writers to explain what had come between.

Today, not so much. I love that authors drop readers into the moment, often in the middle of some action or conflict. I don’t miss the lead-up or the summary. It’s the kind of writing I want to do myself. But it’s tricky. I haven’t quite figured out yet how much time, as a chunk, my WIP will cover, but I do know that I don’t want to cover all the moments or hours, not even all the days. I want to find a way to write the important scenes and the scenes that make connections, without leaving the reader confused about when they are.

Which is why, after having thoroughly enjoyed the library copy of Fixing Delilah, I’m off to buy my own copy. Because Ockler has managed to do this flawlessly, and I want to read the book through a time or two again–to study, analyze, dissect why and how it works.

The story takes place over an entire summer. Almost three months. 10-12 weeks. 70+ days.

With 34 chapters. One of which contains a single line of dialogue, and other sets in which multiple chapters take place on the same day.  Sometimes, Ockler skips hours between a scene, sometimes days, at least once–I’m sure–she skips weeks. And it’s all smooth.

The book feels just like school vacation–when you can barely say what you did for six days in a row, the an afternoon in the treehouse or hiking to a mountaintop stands out in clear, memorable relief. You get a sense of time passing–summer time, made of warmth and laziness with passages of sadness and anger and love and excitement. It’s time set away from the rest of the world, which is what–I think–makes Delilah’s story possible. This book had to take place over time, because the characters need that time–and some of that peace–to change and heal. And Ockler gave them–and us–that gift.

Lovely.

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