I'm always on the prowl for a great novel. Not just a good read, but one that grabs me by the collar and drags me into its pages, causing me to lose sleep but loving every lost minute of it. Most of the time, I'm left stranded on page 30; sometimes I'll hang in as far as 99.
One of my greatest disappointments so far in this still-young year of 2010 was Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna. Out of respect for this great author and in memory of The Poisonwood Bible (still one of my all-time favorites), I read the whole book. I kept faith far too long that the "good part" lay just on other other side of whatever page I was reading.
Then a novel I had not yet discovered found me. My wife's bridge partners declared it a must-read, so we purchased the newly released paperback edition of Abraham Verghese's near-700 page Cutting for Stone. The author hooked me like a trout on page one and wouldn't release me until I had read his lengthy Acknowledgments and the Bibliography. I just didn't want it to be over.
A review in the Los Angeles Times said, "You many never leave your chair." Well, at my age that's too long. Besides my hypoglycemia won't let me skip too many meals (and I didn't marry a woman who will deliver meals to my rocking chair so I won't have to stop reading).
I don't want to give the book's wisdom and mysteries away, but since it's on the back cover blurb I can tell those who have not read Cutting yet that the main character, Marion Stone, and his brother Shiva "are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon." All of the main and secondary characters are beautifully drawn. Wisdom abounds in their virtues and is arrived at through their vices. I am not a fast reader and I hardly ever tackle anything over 500 pages, but I swept through this book like a slow-motion speed reader. Rarely did I scan through a paragraph (and only when it exceeded my tolerance for medical terminology).
Cutting for Stone is right up there with the best novels I have read (I stop short of equating any book with Les Miserables). It surpasses another of my all-timers, Ann Patchett's Bel Canto.
I've been debating whether or not to share something else with you, but here goes. For the last 50 pages, I was close to crying my eyes out. There. It was that good.