Adventures in Cultural Consumption:
A Long and Happy Life, Reynolds Price: I came to this one after reading his Three Gospels on the internet recommendation of Alan Jacobs. Three Gospels is a remarkable little book, in which Price uses his writerly observations to comment on the gospels of Mark and John, the cumulative effect of which is impressive. A writer who has that kind of sensitivity is an unusual thing, so I went to this, his first novel. It also impressed: one story told well. I would be interested to see what my readers who commented on The Marriage Plot think of this one, since it is written (mostly) from a woman's perspective.
A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin: It's achievement is not it's plot, which is complicated but no more so than a lot of novels; Martin's attempts to be bolder are usually compromised by his tendency to write short sentences, which inhibits him from doing a number of things. Nor do I think it's the writing from perspective, though this is often praised: it's the same trick found in As I Lay Dying or The Savage Detectives, but a lesser version of the same: Martin's book has a narrator ('author' is probably a better term) who has a third person perspective that compensates for the gaps in knowledge of the character ostensibly speaking, thinking, living their part of the story. In The Savage Detectives, by contrast, there is no through-line of plot: there is only a mess of little pieces from which a whole might be constructed.
Martin's innovation, I think, is the verisimilitude of emotional reaction. His characters tend to not be very smart (my rule of thumb is to assume everyone except Tyrion is stupid unless proven otherwise) and so their actions are often inexplicable, but their reactions credibly move across a wide range of feelings, all well-rendered and without any undue melodrama or artifice. That, so far as I can tell, never happens in genre novels, and happens rarely enough in any other kind of book.