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Monday
May282012

Grasping the Game

It would be impossible for me to talk about True to the Game: A Teri Woods Fable without talking about audience. My overall theory is that strong negative reactions to any sort of art form are born out of people being outside the artist’s audience. If, for example, you think Lady Gaga is essentially a pile of Madonna’s warm turds, then I can assure you that you are in no way part of her audience. Quality judgments are best left to those who have some ability to at least understand the intended audience of the work. All this sounds like I’m about to either cop out on making any pronouncements of the quality of True to the Game or dump on it—I will do neither.

I am most likely outside the intended audience for urban fiction. There are life experiences and cultural touchstones that people who grew up in urban environments have that I do not. I grew up in suburban Minnesota, twenty miles away from the nearest “city.” I am a suburban white boy.

I once heard Junot Diaz talk about how he writes with a few perfect readers in mind (actual people he knows), and that he knows in his audience there will be both bilingual readers and English only readers. He knows it is inevitable that not everyone will get every reference, every touchstone, every bit of winking and nudging. And he is fine with that. Those perfect readers might get it all, but not everyone will. I am cognizant that there are shared experiences by the intended audience for urban fiction that are far and away from my own experiences, and these shared experiences may have led to one of the two problems I had with what I thought was a thoroughly enjoyable book.

So, let’s deal with the problems so we can talk about what worked.

First, there was a technical issue that hampered my reading. Though well written in general, True to the Game uses an omniscient point of view that jarringly moves from character to character mid-scene. In the end, I chalked this issue up to Woods’s lack of editor and desire to just get the book out there. I think it might have worked more smoothly had she done one more draft.

Second, despite the luxury of hearing the innermost thoughts of many of the book’s characters, at no point was I ever truly able to understand their motivations. I have never in my life personally known people like the characters in this book, and there seemed to be a lot of cultural shorthand being used. I asked myself why I feel this way about True to the Game, and not say, The Wire, whose story lines in the drug/gang world felt similar to that of this book, and I have two thoughts on this.

The Wire is a crime show, and, on some level, an audience for a crime show will immediately identify characters as heroes and villains, even when they fall along a spectrum instead of being just good or just evil (like Dungeons & Dragons’ “alignments”). True to the Game is more of a tragic romance in a crime-ridden environment, and for that to work, I needed to see the characters fleshed out more.

The other thought is that Teri Woods called the book a fable—as in, a story with a moral lesson. Woods’ intended audience or “perfect reader” might be someone who has something to gain from the lesson within the book. However, as someone outside Woods’ intended audience, I don’t have anything to learn from this book that I didn’t already know. Drugs are bad. Killing is messy

Overall, I quite enjoyed the book, but I have to say that because of the issues above, for me it does not pass the Adam’s test—it doesn’t quite rise above craftsmanship to art. Still, like The Forever War, it’s a great first novel. 

All rights reserved to Josh Wodarz.

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