Many writing teachers tell their students to “write what you know.” And what do writers know better than… writers? I love a good story about a writer, and so jumped at the chance to read ARCs of Joani Elliott’s The Audacity of Sara Grayson and Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot.
The Audacity of Sara Grayson
What happens when your mother’s dying wish becomes your worst nightmare?
What happens when the world’s greatest literary icon dies before she finishes the final book in her best-selling series?
And what happens when she leaves that book in the hands of her unstable, neurotic daughter, who swears she’s not a real writer?
Sara Grayson is a thirty-two-year-old greeting card writer about to land the toughest assignment of her life. Three weeks after the death of her mother—a world-famous suspense novelist—Sara learns that her mother’s dying wish is for her to write the final book in her bestselling series.
Sara has lived alone with her dog, Gatsby, ever since her husband walked out with their Pro Double Waffle Maker and her last shred of confidence. She can’t fathom writing a book for thirty million fans—not when last week’s big win was resetting the microwave clock.
But in a bold move that surprises even herself, Sara takes it on. Against an impossible deadline and a publisher intent on sabotaging her every move, Sara discovers that stepping into her mother’s shoes means stumbling on family secrets she was never meant to find—secrets that threaten her mother’s legacy and the very book she’s trying to create.
Joani Elliott knows how to write! Well crafted novel with a realistic depiction of the art of writing — the insecurity and hopelessness and futility and accomplishment, cycling in an endless, introspective loop. If you think the story synopsis above sounds interesting, the book storyline should be right up your alley. Elliott’s writing is empathetic, and feels uplifting, in a real, truthful way. As someone who dabbles in writing, I found much of this book inspiring. I definitely recommend if you are a writer. You will love Phil, because he’s the best.
The book also has a couple of adorable and believable romances.
My only issue with this book (which, unfortunately, is a big one), is that we spend the majority of our time with Sara Grayson, and Sara Grayson is… kind of awful. Whiny, full of excuses. Literally everyone she knows is like, “Your writing is so good! You need to do this! Also, you’ve been unhappy. Trying this new thing may help you realize what you want and feel fulfilled.” And she doesn’t trust herself, she doesn’t trust those she loves, and she’s fucking annoying about it. It’s probably realistic, but it’s very difficult to spend so much time with her when she’s insufferable, and, like, not in a fun way.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 typewriters
Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect; he hasn’t written–let alone published–anything decent in years. When Evan Parker, his most arrogant student, announces he doesn’t need Jake’s help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast as typical amateur narcissism. But then . . . he hears the plot.
Jake returns to the downward trajectory of his own career and braces himself for the supernova publication of Evan Parker’s first novel: but it never comes. When he discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that–a story that absolutely needs to be told.
In a few short years, all of Evan Parker’s predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. He is wealthy, famous, praised and read all over the world. But at the height of his glorious new life, an e-mail arrives, the first salvo in a terrifying, anonymous campaign: You are a thief, it says.
As Jake struggles to understand his antagonist and hide the truth from his readers and his publishers, he begins to learn more about his late student, and what he discovers both amazes and terrifies him. Who was Evan Parker, and how did he get the idea for his “sure thing” of a novel? What is the real story behind the plot, and who stole it from whom?
Thriller novels are difficult, in that they rely on either:
creating tension/suspense that causes the readers to avidly keep reading out of desperate need to find out what happens/get resolution;
have a twist that changes the lens by which the story has been viewed;
have writing so amazing, that even if the twist is predictable, the reader doesn’t care, because it’s so fun getting there.
I applaud Jean for the work that she put into this book. The concept is interesting, and writing a book is a lot of work.
However, I was able to see the “surprise twist” about 20% of the way through the book, the writing was fine, but nothing that particularly filled me with wonder, and given that I knew where everything was likely headed (and I was correct), lacked the tension/suspense I would generally want from a thriller.
Wednesday Books was kind enough to send me a very nice package for the Cast authors (P.C. & Kristin) debut novel in the new “Sisters of Salem” series. This package was so pretty, and I know they say not to judge a book by its’ cover, but I mean, look at that book cover:
To say I was excited may be a slight understatement. This book has a big marketing push, is written by established authors, and it involves magic and twins, the former of which is intriguing and can be done very well in literature, the latter of which are interesting to me, particularly in terms of magic.
I really wanted to like this book — but for various reasons, I did not. However, I think that I come from a very specific viewpoint that I can see is biased in certain ways, so if the idea of twin sisters who come from a line of witches dating back to Salem sounds interesting and you are okay with a few spoilers, please read on to see if it could be a fit for you, as I will try to explain what I didn’t like and why I didn’t like it, the latter of which may very well not be applicable to you.
Let me start by telling you about myself in high school. In tenth grade, I kind of began to have a thing for witches – fictional and historical. The idea of magic is captivating; even if you don’t think it’s real, it is fun to pretend. And the ways that people get out of control and start blaming people for using magic to cause all of their problems, even if it’s just a wet dream, is fascinating (and frightening, once you start seeing parallels occurring in the current world, and have to wonder how civilized we all actually are…). So I read numerous books on the Salem Witch Trials, including one that claimed maybe the first girls to exhibit symptoms in Salem actually had a very rare illness that was not known about at the time.
In addition, I am a person who believes that it is okay to write historical fiction, but important to remain true to the historical facts that are known or make it very clear that the author(s) has(ve) chosen to explore a hypothetical or changed things in order to make a certain point in his/her/their story, etc.
The Casts are inarguably exploring a hypothetical – what if there was a real witch charged in the Salem Witch Trials who escaped, and her magic continued to present-day generations? My issue is that this hypothetical specifically says – what if Sarah Good, one of the first women accused of being a witch, was actually a witch, and escaped with her daughter Dorcas, who was 4 at the time and also accused of being a witch, and fled to Illinois and started a town where their line continued to present-day.
But Sarah Good was one of the 19 people hanged for the crime of being a witch.
If this work is a sweeping historical re-write, I would like her actual tragic death acknowledged somewhere, so that impressionable youngsters with poor research skills or lack of curiosity don’t somehow get the idea that this woman managed to escape. (In a similar vein, I think Disney was recklessly irresponsible in making Pocahontas, a movie designed for impressionable youngsters who may not have ever attended a history class the impression that an actual 12-year-old girl who bravely stood up for a stranger who her father wanted to kill (and who can blame him – I mean, look at what white people did to America and the people who were already living there when they discovered it…) was a 17-year-old head-over-heels in love.)
Sarah Good was a woman who grew up in an affluent family and fell into desperate poverty throughout her life. Forced to live off of other people’s charity, she was bitter and unsociable, which made her an easy target when the town began looking for scapegoats to help explain why their lives sucked. She had to sit in a courtroom and hear numerous people, including her then 4-year-old daughter, spin lies about her before being thrown into prison, where she accrued debt to be treated terribly for a crime of which she wasn’t guilty. She had to witness her own young daughter condemned of the same crime and thrown into prison. She gave birth and witnessed her baby die, likely due to malnutrition and poor conditions in the prison. She was then hauled off in a cart like a piece of livestock, hauled up a ladder, and pushed off. Sarah suffered, and she may have bravely called out the people who were killing her on their bullshit before she was pushed. Her last selfish thoughts probably consisted of hoping that her neck broke, which would make her death quick, since if it didn’t, the people gathered to watch the crime would gleefully watch her slowly strangle. She didn’t live to see the end of the trials, including her daughter’s release from prison (after 8.5 months), nor to witness her daughter’s severe psychological damage from the entire experience.
I can see the temptation to write a better ending for Sarah and Dorothy. But I take issue with the fact that it is never stated, that I can identify, that this fictional novel is based on re-writing the ending of the Salem experience for Sarah and Dorothy (also called “Dorcas” because the jackass who wrote her name on the arrest warrant was bad at spelling), who actually had a much different experience.
On a related and very specific note, the book opens with Sarah listening to the sounds of her shitty male neighbors building a gallows and desperately doing what she can to try to get her daughter and herself the hell out of town. Yet, as I previously stated, Salem didn’t use a gallows. They put a ladder up against a very tall tree, forced the “witch” up the ladder, put the noose around their neck, and pushed them off. I guess the sounds of a dude putting a tall ladder together or rummaging through his storage shed to find it aren’t quite as tension-building, but again, I’m a stickler, so I read “gallows” and was immediately annoyed.
I didn’t like the way the characters were written. The twins on whom the series currently seems set to focus feel hollow, possibly due to the fact that this novel is the first in a series (I’ll get to this potential in a minute), possibly because the authors really wanted to quickly establish the characters so they could get to the plot. The problem is, for a book/series that feels like it should be pretty plot-heavy, we spend a lot of time with these characters and the internal thoughts of these characters, rather than the focus being on the things that happen to the characters. And Hunter and Mercy are fucking annoying. To be fair, not a deal-breaker for a teenage girl character. Some teenage girls are annoying (I was one of them). But the girls in this book are annoying, while at the same time not feeling real. The twins can pretty much be summed up in one phrase each:
Mercy = the shallow, popular one
Hunter = the moody, ambitious one
We are introduced to Hunter first. Hunter is the “ugly” twin, because, you know, she wears her hair in a ponytail. She is also pretentious as fuck. She desperately wants to be a writer, but doesn’t, you know, actually want to write (which I actually somewhat empathize with, because my own aspiring novel is currently languishing on the alphasmart with an abysmal word count… #notimportant). She needs you to know that she’s not like other girls/teenagers, even in her own thoughts. The fact that being a witch is inherent to her is brought across in such a confusing sentence, I underlined it (I’ll abstain from publishing herein, since my copy is not final, and the words may change). And she’s super judgy of the way her twin dances, which she compares to “a stripper.” (It’s ok, though, guys, because the third person narration agrees with Hunter’s assessment, as does Hunter’s best friend Jax, who is presumably in love with her twin since Hunter’s a lesbian. Slut-shaming is supes fun – let’s all do it!)
Mercy we sort of get to know later, but basically, she’s beautiful and she knows it. She’s dating a hot football player, she likes attention, she can’t handle… anything. Basically, anything goes wrong, and Mercy goes catatonic. She also has a pathological need to be correct (as evidenced by this super weird scene where she uses magic to basically project what her boyfriend thinks is a private conversation to everyone else in their high school so she can show her sister that she’s totally wrong, but, of course, it blows up in her face), and whenever possible, likes to blame her problems on her sister (it was so, so obvious her interpretation of an olde passage was likely incorrect).
So neither of these characters is likable. And they’re presumably going to change and grow throughout the series and blah, blah, blah, but at least for this book, I was kind of just like, I don’t really care about you…? They didn’t feel like real teenagers, and they were awful, so I personally felt no reason to root for them or care about their wellbeing.
And before y’all respond, “That was totally me in high school!” or “what the fuck, IG, have you even met a teenager before?” let me give an example of why they don’t feel like real characters. For teenagers with problems and potential narcissism complexes, these chicks responses to the idea of drugs and sex and, you know, fun stuff that teenagers with problems (aka, all teenagers) often get themselves into more problems with until they develop other interests, is like an after-school special. This interpretation could be me as an adult looking at teenage characters, but personally, I don’t see any reason why kids need to feel like they are a bad person if they are curious about what recreational drugs are like, and also no kid needs to feel guilty about liking the little death. Although I was traumatized as a 10-year-old reading SVH, where Regina dies because she does a bump of cocaine, smoking a joint really isn’t the end of the world (or doing a bump of cocaine). Just, like anything, don’t overdo it, or you can, like, ruin your nose and have trouble finding a job and shit. In a similar way, sexual activity in and of itself isn’t bad. Consent in all activity is very, very important. As long as both parties were consenting, there isn’t an illegal age difference, and both parties are being smart (condoms, guys, keeps you covered in more way than one), you have no reason to feel ashamed of anything you have done. And I guess after-school special teens aren’t necessarily non-existent, but it would have been nice to see some open-minded teen protagonists who aren’t jerks about anything non-traditional that they themselves aren’t personally experiencing (i.e., they’re witches, and one is a lesbian in a small town, and as such, it would be cool if they showed empathy towards other people who don’t fit into the mythical small-town box).
Then, there’s the weird description of their mother. The twins literally hold hands and stare at their mother and think about how hot she is, in one scene. I found myself thinking about the fact that this book was written by a mother/daughter duo as I read the scene, and finding the whole thing very unrelatable. Even if your mother is good-looking, I just find it weird that as a teenager, you think about how beautiful her ample, unrestrained bosom is, and the staring twin thing doesn’t translate to “Aw…” in my mind. More “Ah!!!” horror-feels.
To me, I think the ideas and characters in this series would maybe have worked better as a single, epic book. This book kind of felt like a Halloween-sized piece of Laffy Taffy that was being stretched and forced into an unnaturally larger size and then proffered as an alternative for dinner. The idea behind the debut novel in a series is to leave you hungry for more, but in this case, the candy had been stretched too thin, so that it was wasn’t tasty enough to leave me craving more Sisters of Salem, but instead, a meatier book with more substance. The plot itself was kind of interesting – alluding to five distinct sets of mythology – but also didn’t exactly make sense. Why did a monster only escape from one of the five gates, when all of them were losing strength? Presumably, we will encounter a different monster/mythology with each book in the series. But this book would have been stronger, and there would have been a greater sense of urgency, if there had been more enemy for the girls to conquer in this debut. I would have much rather had a larger book, jam-packed with plot, than the book we have, which is trying to hook the reader but didn’t quite work for me.
In summation: does this novel cast a spell on all who read it? I mean, obviously, it didn’t on me. But if you are a series reader, if you don’t need to like the characters, and if you’re cool with historical inaccuracy and/or lack of transparency, it may cast one on you.
I usually try to post at least once per week, but am currently working through some life changes, and so have been a bit MIA/remiss. I shall strive to do my best to behave again – if you don’t see a post from me next Tuesday, you have my permission to shake your head at me in gentle admonition, and perhaps be slightly cross or reproving.
In other news, I decided to create a Twitter, primarily to amuse myself because other people are fucking great at using their 140 or less characters to make me laugh. But I legit squealed a bit in delight when Mona Awad (yes, that Mona Awad, writing goddess, and if you haven’t read Bunny yet, you need to, like, why are you even reading this – go to the bookstore now) responded to one of my tweets:
Had to share – I look up to this woman so much (and recently got the opportunity to read an ARC of her upcoming release All’s Well, which I will be posting about soon (spoiler alert: also amazing)). Unfortunately, the rest of this week has not been going so well. BUT tomorrow’s Friday, so this week is almost over. & next week is bound to be better.
How are y’all doing? Please share in the comments below! I would love to hear about your highs/lows and in-betweens (or feel free to leave your Twitter handle, so I can laugh at your funny 140 character or less postings).
I’m bone tired. Not 100% sure why, to be honest. Possibly because I’m trying to plan a novel on top of working full time and wrangling two energetic kids and my husband and keep the house clean. So today, I thought I would briefly go through the ARCs that I have read since starting this blog, but not created a blog post for –
One Day by David Nicholls – had this one for approximately a decade before I read it, which is a shame, because it is an amazing book:
2. The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin
3. So We Can Glow: Stories by Leesa Cross-Smith
4. The Paris Model by Alexandra Joel
5. The Memory Thief (Thirteen Witches #1) by Jodi Lynn Anderson
6. Read This for Inspiration: Simple Sparks to Ignite Your Life by Ashly Perez
I write a mini-review for almost every book I read on Goodreads, and give a star rating approximately 95% of the time (sometimes, I need time away from the book to sift through my feelings, and promptly forget that I have never rated, so it’s just not going to happen). If you found this blog post entertaining, you would probably enjoy following me on Goodreads. If you didn’t fine this blog post entertaining, I promise, they’re not all this half-assed. I really just have no energy at the moment. But wouldn’t you like to follow me, and see if I’m telling the truth? #winkwink
Now that this book has officially been published, I can finally post about Mateo Askaripour’s Uh-Maze-Ing novel Black Buck (this book is difficult for me to discuss without spoilers). If you haven’t read it yet, run to your nearest indie bookstore, because it’s better for your health and the environment and the local economy, and nab a copy. This post can wait.
Now that you have read it, can we share a mutual squeal of delight over this thought-provoking novel featuring a black salesman who achieves fame & fortune, delivers great advice, and is imprisoned because his white racist adversary teams up with the grandson of a man he treated unfairly, and the latter has decided karma needed some help?
There is so much about this book that I loved. But the best thing about it is that my brain continued mulling it over long after I was technically done reading. How I realized subtleties in Askaripour’s book that could easily be missed amidst the bravado and dramatism that a novel full of salespeople and realistic American sentiment contains. Some people may think this novel is satire – I think this novel is, unfortunately, all too believable.
The part that sticks with me is how employees at Sumwun are so upset about the Happy Campers, which essentially provides the same advantages to people of color as the Duchess received from her father’s connections. It was okay for her to breeze through training and new hiring, because she was white and rich and thin. But the Happy Campers, who receive a similar “leg up” are absolutely not okay, because they are generally not white and not rich, so they’re “stealing jobs” whereas it is fine for Duchess to pretty much yawn her way through work, where she probably doesn’t need training at all, since her father’s contacts will buy from her without need of a sales pitch anyway.
This novel is sharp – I could tell it was going to be a good read from the opening sentence:
The day that changed my life was like every other day before it, except that it changed my life.
The wit is sharp and smart:
My teeth are status quo and powerful, also known as white and straight…
I truly cannot think of a better book to help you experience the anger, the outrage, the unfairness, as you read the ultimate underdog, what-the-fuck-is-work-life-balance, mentoring-is-not-bullshit-even-though-it-did-land-me-in-jail, story. This book is fiction, but don’t misjudge – the experiences in here are, unfortunately, not that far off what many people-of-color face every day. And it would be nice to think that this book is just making blatant what is underlying the microaggressions that are often experienced. But the truth is, a large portion of the country is just outright aggressive, and people-of-color are often their targets. Read this book, if you are blissfully unaware of what it is like to be considered less than because of attributes you cannot help, with which you were born. Read this book to get legitimate, useful business advice. Read this book because it is well-written. But read this book – and recommend to the other people in your life who could benefit from empathy, or who want to feel understood, or who are looking for an intelligent, eloquent read.
As someone who considers herself a feminist and likes literature, I know embarrassingly little about famous female writers. So when Netgalley gave me the opportunity to read Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives, Inspiration, and Influence Behind the Pens of Classic Women Writers, I jumped at the chance. Slated to be released April 20, 2021, this very pink book is a light history of times in the lives of 18 women writers that the writers consider poignant:
This novel is a great introduction to the lives of women writers. If you have no idea where to start, this novel provides a glimpse into the lives of a diverse group of fiercely intelligent women who successfully published works in spite of difficulties, tragedies, and in the case of Emily Dickinson, disposition. Every woman mentioned in this book is amazing, and reading this made me curious to know more about these fascinating women.
The downside of this book, of course, is that while it does feature interesting women, by focusing primarily on one specific moment in their life, it can be frustrating if you actually want to be able to talk intelligently about the women, because there is so much that is not present. In addition, if you have even a glimmer of knowledge about these women, you will likely already know the information present in this book. I do not consider myself a scholar in the area of literary analysis, but I was well aware of pretty much everything in the volume concerning Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, and George Eliot.
However, as a brief overview, as well as inspiration for what can be achieved in spite of life’s difficulties (which we all face). As someone with personal literary aspirations, reading about what these women accomplished made me want to begin writing something of my own. Not that I think I am going to write the great American novel, but – I don’t really know what I am capable of if I don’t try.
I would recommend if you’re looking for a high-level glimpse into the lives of some famous female writers (seems like it could be a fun gift).
I was a lucky recipient of Sarah Goodman’s forthcoming debut novel Eventide. I’m not quite sure why I picked up this book, dark green in hue, with an ephemeral woman in a white dress immediately after reading Sue Miller’s Monogamy (post forthcoming). Monogamy was so realistic, filled with such beautiful writing, I think I just grabbed another book because it was time to read another book, and with the assumption that regardless of what I chose, it would be a letdown. Like the book nerd equivalent of waking up when you know it’s too early and you really want to go back to bed, but you just can’t, for some reason, and so you’re like: “Fine,” but then you’re noticeably cranky all day.
So there I was, already cranky with Eventide, prepared to be disappointed. But try as I might (I’m pretty stubborn, so I did try to hold on to my grumpiness, like a child), Eventide was not disappointing.
To begin with, the author, a former journalist, uses many off-the-cuff remarks in the beginning of the book that gave me pause, due to the early-twentieth century setting. But when I did my cursory Google-search fact-checking, bitch had done her homework. All of the remarks made in Chapter 1, such as the petri dish, and potential employment in a typing pool, are reasonable. The narrator’s temperament, while feeling somewhat modern, also seems appropriate for someone young and from a city for that time period. So Goodman did good on not writing something implausible or historically inaccurate in her historical fiction (one of my personal pet peeves).
I will say, I did not much like the protagonist, and while the lack of diversity in this novel was noticeable to me, it is period appropriate. Despite not particularly liking Verity Pruitt, she was well-written. She was annoying in the way that cocky young people can be, but she was also smart and brave and someone who will do anything for the people she loves. So annoying, but also someone you can’t help but root for at least a little bit.
Yet what really makes this book stand out and kept me reading is the story. The first few chapters are necessary, well written, but ultimately, not that engaging, exposition. There are also short chapter breaks interspersed amongst the main story that provide back story and are completely unnecessary. Like, do they help tell the story? Yes. But could the story be told just as well without them? Also yes. Do they add to the atmosphere? I guess. But again, in a way that I found annoying, much like the protagonist. I think, actually, that this entire book might be a set-up for a YA series. It works as a standalone novel, but it feels as though it is written with the idea of adding to it if it gains enough of a fangirl base. About mid-way through the novel, the story picks up within the main storyline, and that is when your eyes will be glued to the page, and you’ll be flipping pages faster than you can blink.
The story is melodramatic and crazy and frightening, a roller coaster of a latter half of the novel. It has twists and mental illness and faerie folklore and family and love and magick. And I didn’t much like the protagonist, although I didn’t want her to lose, but did love the villain, whose unveiling is like a mix between a car wreck that you can’t help looking at and the glamour of [insert name of beautiful, famous person you can’t help but online stalk here], with a hint of malice. Like, I don’t want to meet the villain in real life, but I loved reading her.
Verdict: You should read this.
Fine print – Slated for release in October. If intrigued and if you can afford it, please consider pre-ordering from an indie bookstore. #shoplocal #oratleastnotamazon
Brookhants, a property housing a boarding school that was last peopled with students in the early 20th century, is haunted. Parents stopped feeling comfortable sending their girls there after the mysterious deaths of several of the students, as well as members of the faculty. The terrible deaths surrounding the property, as well as the unconventional lifestyles and love interests that people the property’s tragedy, made for a fascinating, bestselling read when literary talent Merritt Emmons had her non-fiction book featuring the mystery published as a precocious teen, and are now in the works to become a (hopefully) blockbuster, (at the least) expensive movie featuring the famous and beautiful Harper Harper and her B-list co-star Audrey Wells. … what could go wrong?
If I were to draft a book wishlist, a book description fairly similar to the synopsis of Plain Bad Heroines would be on it. As a fan of thrillers/horror since elementary school, as well as enough of a follower to read shit because Emma Roberts’ book cult suggested it, it’s almost like Emily M. Danforth’s novel was crafted specifically for me. Sprinkle in characters that challenge heternormativity, and an intelligent, rich mentor character who met Truman Capote, and I have got to fucking read this book.
Unfortunately, although the plot and characters are interesting, this book was not as enjoyable as I was hoping.
Plain Bad Heroines is an interesting conundrum of a novel, in that it has really forced me to evaluate what I desire from the books that I read. Objectively, I consider the plot to be interesting. It has two primary timelines – one occurring in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, the other occurring more recently, in the early twenty-first century – and both timelines include interesting plots and have an approximate equal weighting. Objectively, I consider the characters to be interesting. There were characters I liked more than others, but the majority of the characters are either fairly well fleshed out, or appropriately rely on stereotypes that allow the reader to quickly understand them. I will say, not all of the characters really grow or change, but given that this novel is in large part a thriller/horror novel, I think that is okay. When you think about a lot of famous horror movies, the main character struggling to survive is often a static character, who may become traumatized, but has not really changed at his or her core, and has instead shown how his or her character has allowed him or her to remain alive. So, given that I agree that the plot and characters in the novel are fairly well done, what, exactly, was my problem with the novel?
That is an excellent question.
I’m going to try. Also, way to call bullshit on my stalling tactics.
I think the missing element for me with this novel was writing style. There were moments, brief glimpses, where the prose style was enjoyable to me. However, for the most part, the writing of this novel felt a bit plain. It was not that the sentences were even necessarily poorly crafted, they just didn’t appeal to me. The information that should have been conveyed was conveyed, it was just done in a way that felt too simple, that drew too straight a line from point A to point C. In essence, I think that this novel shows craft and shows writing, but just does not do so in a way that is in accord with my artistic sensibilities. I would not be at all surprised to discover I am in the minority in my feelings while reading this novel. At the same time, my honest, true feelings are that the writing style takes an interesting idea peopled with interesting characters and fails to elevate the story, leaving the book instead one more mediocre novel populating store bookshelves starting October 20th.
Did you read it, or are you planning to do so? If so, what did you think or what is most interesting/intriguing/appealing to you?
I recently had the privilege of receiving and devouring an ARC of David Foenkino’s The Mystery of Henri Pick. Translated by Sam Taylor, this novel was charming and literary, which was exactly the sort of novel I was in the mood to read when I pulled this e-book up on my cell phone. I won’t bother to summarize the plot, since this novel is primarily a mystery in titular name, only, and you should only read this novel if you are okay with meandering plots including high-level characterizations, akin to a fairy tale about literature peopled with the various people involved in creating and being affected by literature – the struggling authors, the editors and publisher, the general public, the critics.
There is a literal mystery – how did Henri Pick write a novel when no one was aware he had any literary predilection, at all? But the focus of the novel is not really this question that is consuming the minds of the fictional characters that populate it, but whether, how the public’s access to people and information results in the general populace feeling entitled to personal and private information of all persons associated, even tangentially. How this entitlement can result in people who were completely unaffiliated with the creative endeavor being hurt. How this entitlement can be manipulated.
Because at the end of the day, does it matter how the novel was written, if it is, in fact, a good novel? Sure a novel with an interesting backstory may make people more inclined to pick it up (or, more likely, order it from Amazon), but at the end of the day, a novel’s merit should be based on the words contained within its’ pages. In fact, does it really matter who even wrote the novel? Except for potentially resulting in the reader realizing this author’s writing hits his/her/their fancy, and searching for other works, if they exist, or becoming an author whose works the reader keeps an eye for in the new releases, the author’s words are all that will matter in 100 years, when any scandal, beauty, or personal attributes will cease to matter (likely; I guess some authors live to be quite old, so maybe I should update that to 200 years).
Now, having said all of those words above, I have to admit that I am 100% guilty of becoming a bit obsessed with authors who have penned works I have enjoyed and admired. As a teenager, I used to pen letters to my favorite YA author, Christopher Pike, in that fangirl way that probably means there’s a restraining order for me somewhere that has never had to be exercised, because, like, Kevin McFadden lived in California, and I lived in Michigan. I was so obsessed, I spent a ridiculous amount of money to obtain Getting Even, the second in a series that also includes a book written by Caroline B. Cooney, and that is decidedly different from the horror/New Age shit Pike (or his ghostwriters, since with the release of a book per month, there were probably a lot of ghostwriters) usually wrote that I adored. It was my dream, as a teenager, to become the next Christopher Pike, or L.J. Smith (… still waiting on Strange Fate, although at this point, I doubt the book could end the Night World series in a way that gave me closure). As an adult, I can safely say, this dream was not, and will not, be attained. Although I did successfully complete a short story recently, my income is not dependent on my creative ability – which is good, because as even the most cursory glance at this blog will tell you, I’m not great at keeping my creative ability on a schedule. I still like taking my books to author signings (even out-of-state). Authors whose works I enjoy amaze me. As an avid reader, I love those books that touch my heart, and I will seek out other works by the author, follow the author on Goodreads, and marvel at that author’s ability. A book that is fresh every time you read it is an amazing feat. A book that makes me melt, like the romantic works penned by Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell, is a book penned by an author that I admire. And as someone who would like to write something admirable herself, I will see if the authors who have managed to write things I think are amazing have given interviews where they talk about their process, etc., to see if they have the magic key that will unlock my own potential. (I know, this will never work, since the largest factor key to writing something decent is to sit your butt down and write, but part of me can’t help hoping there’s something else, like Sarah Dessen’s two pieces of chocolate, that will make it easier for me.)
In other words, Foenkino has many decent points, but although it is not fair to expect answers from or about the author, if you read something you really admire, doesn’t it also make sense that you are going to be curious about the source of the creation of that thing? Or am I just unhinged, and should treat the author more like a parent of the book I love, smiling awkwardly when I meet them, and absconding away with the book as soon as I can, like teenage me did with my boyfriend?
I am slowly wading my way through R. Eric Thomas’s essay Here For It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America, which is fucking amazing and which I highly recommend for both its’ comedic talent and poignant moments. Reading his essays is finding someone I want to buy a drink, so I can have a smart, funny conversation and become friends and have someone help me ponder the craziness that is currently American politics.
Also, I’m pretty sure R. Eric Thomas is pyschic, because his essay “Flames, at the Side of My Face” (which you should read, if you haven’t, because did I tell you he was fucking amazing yet? the ending to this one is ridiculous and funny and adorable) says in one succinct sentence what I think a lot of us are currently feeling:
… see what I mean about the poignant moments?
What have you been reading that is helping you get through quarantine?