On Robert Goble’s Across a Harvested Field

Cover for Across A Harvested Field by Robert Goble

1. Relatively spoiler-free backcopy.

“To Jordan Fairchild, the dark-haired girl renting his basement apartment seems somewhat quiet and reclusive. Just a business arrangement, he thinks, as he watches her sign the name ‘Nattie Hand’ on the contract. Though two thousand miles away, Celeste Betancourt, an attractive Georgetown graduate student he met through a mutual friend, has captured his attention. A budding friendship with Nattie soon begins to bloom. Little does Jordan know his girl-next-door renter is none other than the world-famous pop star, a.k.a. Natalia Antonali, who recently disappeared from the public eye; little does he know how much his friendship will come to mean to her, how, for the first time a love begins to grow, untainted by ‘Natalia,’ and how she hopes Jordan never discovers the truth.”

2. Why there aren’t really any spoilers up there

Across a Harvested Field is told from Jordan’s p-o-v—mostly. In fact, although the book never egregiously violated his point of view, the selection of details does not always match what he would focus on. Result? The fact that Natalia and Nattie are the same person is evident to the reader almost immediately—yet Jordan doesn’t figure it out for . . . well, a long time. At first, you might want to call him what romance fans label . But that thought is always followed by the simple fact that a real person with an incognito celebrity living in his basement is unlikely to assume that the face on the tabloid is the same one downstairs.

Ever met someone famous? Ever noticed how, IRL, they are surprisingly lifesized?

They don’t live in my basement.

They wouldn’t fit in my basement.

3. So does it obey any rules of romance?

Or, better question, is it a romance?

Yes. Clearly. (Slight but utterly unsurprising spoiler in next paragraph.)

It has a happy ending, as is necessary, but which happy ending it will provide is unclear for a long time and, for a while, whether it will provide a happy ending (in terms of a satisfying romantic relationship) at all is unclear.

And in the end, I’m not sure the “happy ending” is really what Across a Harvested Field is about anyway. I realized this when I read the Marilyn Brown Novel Award citation by Jen Wahlquist; she describes the book as being about “the multi-layered process of grieving.”

And that’s exactly right.

4. So Jordan’s sad?

Heck yes he’s sad! His wife and two kids were killed in a car crash last year! He’s 28 and living alone in the house he planned to entertain grandkids in! How could he not be sad?

Writing about sadness is tough though. And it takes a while for Goble to find his feet. But again, like the TSTL issue, when I stopped to figure out what was “wrong” with his telling, nothing was. Life doesn’t stop when your family dies. What’s the right way to depict this liminal space between living and utter grief? I don’t know. And if I did, who’s to say Jordan’s grief observance should match mine?

That said, I think Goble didn’t quite pull off that transitional grief during the first half of the book. He gets better as the novel proceeds, however, and the “the multi-layered process of grieving” he displays is, in the final analysis, very well done.

5. Favorite moments

Although it can’t really count as enjoyable, I was impressed with how much Goble could make me hate—with a painful immediacy—the paparazzi.

But unquestionably my favorite part—the part that nearly brought me to tears with how lovely it is—is Jordan’s wrestling match with his brother. You doubt me? Read the book. You’ll see what I mean. That is a beautiful, cathartic scene. And one of the best two pages of brotherly love I can cite.

Also, one kiss in the book is so exactly what an honest kiss between two affection-starved humans should be. It certainly sped my heartrate up.

The high school stuff. Sure, in part that’s because I work at a high school, and, admittedly, some details were off (how Ashleigh and Diego arrived in the same Spanish class is beyond me), but that’s basically what working at a high school is like. It’s a lot of good, a lot of bad, a certain amount of politically keeping certain girls on one side of your desk.

6. Final notes

This book has an unnecessarily large number of developed characters. The most obvious example is the high school’s astonishingly well educated janitor. His character never really goes anywhere (is he a monomythic wise-old-man? some other useful symbol?) yet he is complicated and opaque. I appreciate notes like that in my fiction.

And, finally, it is a romance. Don’t let the plot’s coulds and couldn’ts get in the way of enjoying a great human story of love and creation.

Well worth a read.


read wm’s interview with goble

16 thoughts on “On Robert Goble’s Across a Harvested Field

  1. Sounds like another book I’ll want to pick up.

    Odd publishing note: A quick check of Amazon shows that there’s a paper edition of FIELD … with a very different cover (a couple in a pumpkin patch). The cover (a much better one imo) shown above here on AMV is the Kindle version.

  2. .

    Actually, I know a bit about this. My book has the cover shown above. The first printing had the not-so-good pumpkin cover. Once those sold out they switched to this cover, although they haven’t been superterrific about making sure all the everyones have updated to the new image. If you buy used, you may get one or the other. If you buy new, you’ll get the cover above.

  3. Does it have to be a romance novel? Bleh. Or are you saying that even if I hate romance novels (and chick flicks and Jane Austen)I might like this one?

  4. .

    I don’t understand how it would be possible to hate romance (or any basic story type) without exception, so I’m not sure how to answer this question.


  5. I have been wanting to read this book for a while, so I will definitely have to track down a copy. I’m intrigued by the idea of a romance with a male protagonist because the ones have I read have usually been primarily from the female POV. Well, now that I think of it, two LDS ones I’ve read from Michele Page Holmes are more male-oriented in their writing (the narrator is third-person omniscient but the focus is the male character), so it would be interesting to compare them.

  6. Jane Austen is not really a romance writer, and she certainly does not use modern romance conventions. Well, in some cases she started such conventions, but to hate her for doing it is like hating Shakespeare because it’s full of cliches.

  7. FoxyJ – Did you ever read “The Rogue Diaries”? It has a male POV and got good reviews. (I haven’t had the chance to read it, yet, so I can’t personally recommend it.)

  8. I haven’t read this novel yet, but the responses so far plus the descriptions of it haven’t convinced me that Laura’s concerns have been alleviated. I guess I’d frame it is: is this more like a romantic comedy in novel form or more like a romance novel with a bit of comedy? There is a difference, I think, and that difference might be meaningful to a reader like Laura. Or me.

  9. .

    It is structured like a romcom, but never really feels like one. It has too much underlying grief and overlying disaster. The principals are too damaged.

  10. And this is a surprise? I want writers to bleed onto the page so that I can consume their soul with my eyes.

  11. I have The Rogue Diaries, too, but alas. It is a dead-tree version and thus, languishes upon my shelf.

    Jane Austen is not really a romance writer, and she certainly does not use modern romance conventions. Well, in some cases she started such conventions, but to hate her for doing it is like hating Shakespeare because it’s full of cliches.

    *snortle* So much win.

  12. Sorry it’s taken me awhile to get back to this conversation.

    Um, I’m not sure how to proceed. . . because I genuinely get very, very little enjoyment out of romance novels. Not just bodice rippers or wannabe bodice rippers. But all of them. I mean, I really *dislike* Jane Austen. Not just because she’s cliche, but because I just don’t care about her characters. They are not funny to me. They are not subversive. They are not charming. They aren’t even really hateable. . . they just don’t do anything for me. I appreciate Jane Austen’s place in the canon and her importance to Western culture, but I don’t read her stuff because I really don’t like it.

    One romance-y thing I like is that movie, “A Walk to Remember”–but I found the novel insufferable. I genuinely don’t like romantic comedies. Really. I can’t remember the last one I saw. Although, there is one movie, “Uncorked”, that could probably fall under the romantic comedy umbrella.

    Sorry. I think I kind of am dismissing an entire genre/basic story type. I mean, I don’t hate all books that are about love relationships, but I generally just do not connect with the ones that are all about falling in love. Edith Wharton is one of my favorite writers, especially _The House of Mirth_, which is definitely about relationships but is definitely not romance. Does that make any sense?

    However, the comment about grief and tragedy makes me think that this might be an enjoyable read for me.

    Wm. #14 So true (for me) and SO funny!

    And for the record, I like Shakespeare. Cliches and all. (Now, Dickens. . . that’s another story!)

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