Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Interweaving subplots part II: Fear of Beauty as an example

As I sit down to revisit the theme outlined in part I of this series, I'm also in the midst of reading "Fear of Beauty", by Susan Froetschel (Seventh Street Books).  I picked up this novel for the purpose of reviewing it, but now, just 70 pages in, I realize that the book provides a perfect example to use in this blog post.  And since I haven't finished the book yet, there are no spoilers.

Froetschel uses a great technique for interweaving subplots.

The story is a murder mystery set in modern Afghanistan.  A young boy has been murdered in a small, rural village that just happens to sit on the outskirts of an American Army outpost.  Of course, everyone is suspect.

The two main subplots of the story come from two different perspectives.  One is a first-person narration from the point of view of Sofi, the boy's intelligent, curious, but illiterate mother.  The other is a third-person exposition from the point of view of Joey, a seasoned but kind American Army Ranger stationed at the outpost.

From Sofi, we learn of her life in the village, the death of her son, and the suspicion of the strangers camped uncomfortably close to her home.  In a village where virtually nobody is literate, Sofi has the advantage of a husband who can read the Koran, and she secretly uses his teachings to her boys as a means to study the written word.  When her son's body is found near a mysterious box full of writings, Sofi's desire for literacy becomes desperation.

From Joey, we learn of the reason his group is in Afghanistan.  The outpost is actually populated by military and civilians alike, and the purpose of their mission is to help the villagers create a more sustainable farmland.  The problem is that the war-weary, jaded Afghans don't want the help of foreigners who have consistently brought them nothing but problems.  We learn this first from Joey's perspective, because he has been in Afghanistan long enough to know what to expect.  His sentiments are echoed by Habib, an Afghan interpreter working with the group, and Mita, the civilian leader of the agricultural unit.  The ignorant, arrogant Cameron plays devil's advocate, challenging the experienced, pragmatic viewpoints at every possibility.

These two subplots mesh at the beginning of Chapter 7.  As the foreigners set foot in the village for the first time, Sofi quietly watches from within her home.  This scene is fascinating to observe, as we have already heard the American's presumption about how the Afghans will be feeling at this moment.  From Sofi, we now realize that he was correct.  I can't wait to watch the newly intertwined plot unfold.

In general, I like Froetschel's approach of juxtaposing the first- and third-person perspectives as hallmarks of independent subplots.  The point of view of each scene is obvious right from the opening words, and it's clear which subplot the reader is in at any given moment.  It is also a fabulous way to include the intimacy of a first-person perspective while, in parallel, allowing the reader to observe scenes that the first-person protagonist would not have been privy to.

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