I just finished Chris Bohjalian's beautifully written book, Skeletons at the Feast. A World War II era romance, full of vivid characters and heart-stopping tragedies, Skeletons at the Feast is nearly perfect.
Yeah, I said nearly. At first I couldn't put my finger on the problem I had with the novel, but then it hit me. There was no real conflict between the main characters. I suppose when Nazis are in a novel the whole villain thing is covered, but that's pretty much a given in a WWII story. Some of the main characters are also Nazis, but simply because they are German. And they are just all so dang nice, all the time, that the small conflicts between them and their traveling companions (They are refugees fleeing the Russian army's advance across Germany.) disappear like wisps of smoke before anyone really notices.
So basically I think Bohjalian's mistake was assuming the gentle conflicts between these people were enough when buffeted by Nazi brutality and Russian atrocities. Not to discount the horrors of war, but this is expected. I was looking for the drama between the people I was reading the book to find out more about, the characters Bohjalian cracked open so I'd get a good look inside their heads.
Well, writers often read for instruction, and this book taught me a lot about conflict, internal and external, and its importance. For more on conflict, see the fabulous Intern's post from a few days ago.