Since Ellie validated my mistaken reading of GIFTS over in that post’s comments thread, I thought I would elaborate. ‘Cause what interested me, when I was reading GIFTS, was how much I thought the foreshadowing worked, which made it doubly jarring that it was… you know, not really foreshadowing at all.
I’ve complained before about books that make you wait while they catch up to where anyone who’s ever heard a story before can see they’re going, and on my reading, LeGuin’s book was doing exactly that; I had very specific opinion about what was going to occur that I thought we’d basically been told, and yet I still felt suspense.
Some of this is because, given my misreading, a lot of lines in the book read as ironic to me that, in retrospect, actually weren’t. And actually, those lines did turn out to be important, but in a much more straightforward way than I imagined: while I assumed that the protagonist was going to do a specific thing, and that dialogue asserting he never would was thus meant as ironic foreshadowing, actually those assurances wound up having a different significance at the book’s end. So, it wasn’t necessarily that LeGuin was less careful than I thought she was being; I just misunderstood how.
But now that I know it wasn’t foreshadowing, I’m curious about some of the choices LeGuin makes early on. After the line that set me off on the wrong track, she turns to a few chapters of backstory. Some of this is establishing the kind of mythic mood of the book, but still, I remember thinking, “If she hadn’t just set up this anticipation, this would be kind of a boring choice.” I attributed my continued interest to wanting to see how she got to where I thought she was going.
It’s a bit like this book about plotting that I remember reading in high school; it urged you, at all costs, to avoid writing lengthy descriptions of sunsets… and then gave a counterexample: a classic Western (sorry, I can’t remember which one) in which our hero is supposed to be murdered at sundown. Suddenly all the details of the fingers of orange curling across the sky are a lot more interesting.
So I read GIFTS in that vein, but I’m interested that it worked for me. The whole structure of the first half of the book is basically a series of things I usually hate — a prologue (it’s not called that, but it functions as one), the backstory — worse, it’s backstory about the character’s parents! So in the book’s first fifty pages, you don’t even get a clear sense of what the protagonist is like. And yet. I kept reading. I liked it. I am befuddled.