Aspiring Sparrows

A note to aspiring novelists by Mary Doria Russell : Mrs. Russell is amazed that so many aspiring writers are encouraged by the fact that her modern sci-fi classic, The Sparrow, was turned down by 31 literary agents. She relates that asking her for advice is like asking someone who’s been in 31 car wrecks to teach you how to drive. Nevertheless, she give a few helpful hints which basically amount to not paying to have your manuscript read, among other publishing scams (they reminded me of the scams pulled in Foucault’s Pendulum).

I just finished reading The Sparrow, and I must admit, I’m not suprised that it was turned down 31 times. A book that can be summed up “Jesuits in Space” has got to be a hard sell. And no, it is not a comedy; it’s actually a very disturbing experience (making it that much harder to sell). James describes it better than I ever could:

“It’s a wild idea, sending off a Jesuit mission as humanity’s first (secretively-sent) ambassadors to see what they make of the experience, and Russell pulls off this odd choice, makes it necessary to the deeper workings of her plot. She drives at cross-cultural misunderstandings without demonizing any particularly short-sighted view, sets up a terrible theological and personal conundrum, and is absolutely, utterly, completely and totally merciless in driving her unsuspecting characters into it. The conclusion is quite literally terrible, unswavering in its stripping down of that word to the terror at its core.”

Its a fantastic book with excellent character depth, good plotting, and thought-provoking content, but, as you may have guessed, its certainly not for the faint of heart. The Sparrow ruthlessly challenges faith and ones sense of purpose in the universe. It’s emotionally grueling, to say the least.