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.