Author: Karen Hesse
I'm finally getting to read all of those books that I bought during my writing seminars (with such good intentions) during the last year of my MFA program. They're threatening to make my nightstand buckle under their weight, so it's about time I start reading them. My YA novel professor, Chris Crowe, suggested I read Witness when I was working on a YA novel with multiple protagonists. Witness is an interesting book. It could be the love child of Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology and Carol Lynch Williams's Glimpse. When the Ku Klux Klan came to a small town in Vermont in 1924, the whole town felt its presence, and Witness tries to show how each of the 20 or so characters either played a role or was affected by the Klan. It's written in what looks like verse (it reminds me a lot of Glimpse), and through the 150 or so "witnesses" we gain a picture of what happens over the course of about six months in the town.
On the one hand, I appreciate that Hesse is playing with form. I do think the book is very powerful, and that we get a good picture of certain characters. On the other hand, I feel that we lose some of the richness that a more fully fleshed-out narrative would give us. I think the book does what it sets out to do very effectively, but I ultimately the story wasn't as satisfying or engrossing as it would have been if it had focused on two or three characters. All in all, I enjoyed the book, but I would have liked it better if there had been more of it.