Chopsticks is not as new as most of the books I review here (it was published early 2012), but I can’t stop thinking about it––so I knew it had to make it into the blog.
Chopsticks tells the story of Glory and Frank’s young, troubled romance through sequential images: photos, music books, drawings, and notes. And for a novel with so few words, Chopsticks has quite a bit to teach us about writing.
Here are a few lessons I took away from Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral’s Chopsticks.
1. Aesthetics are important.
This book is visually gorgeous. It’s got that nostalgic, Instagram-filtery feel that must have been so spot-on in 2012 and still feels good today. The novel is both gritty and alluring, and a great reminder that beauty matters. Make your book beautiful. Make it captivating. If you can do that––whether through words or images––it will be much more poignant for its readers.
2. Keep the backstory reveal nice and slow.
Do you find yourself loading your openings with big chunks of backstory? We all know we shouldn’t––but restraining that impulse can prove difficult.
Chopsticks is a great example of how you can say a lot with an image, a hint. You don’t need to give it all away at once. The reader can pick up on clues, and you can reveal bits of the character’s history as you go along. Glory’s life as a piano prodigy, and the sad story of her mother’s death, come through to us with a snapshot of a playbill here, a photo of an old wine label there. The slow reveal makes it that much more satisfying.
3. Trust your reader.
I’ll admit that on the first round, I read Chopsticks in one big gulp. It was just so visually arresting. And I had to know: what’s going to happen to these two sweet, sweet characters who can’t seem to catch a break?!
But once I slowed down and started breathing a bit, I realized that there’s a lot more going on under this story’s surface. Without spoiling the end, I’ll say that the night I read this book was a definite “stay up way past your bedtime re-reading and obsessing over a plot twist” kind of night.
The takeaway here is really in the execution. Anthony and Corral leave us asking questions. They allow us to unravel Glory’s history, and her present, for ourselves. They trust their readers, and they’re comfortable with a little uncertainty––respecting readers enough to let us to decide what to believe.
Want to share your thoughts about Chopsticks? Find me on Twitter: @beckererine.