Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Letters

When I first reviewed for possible purchase The Letters by Luanne Rice and Joseph Monninger, I was intrigued by the craft: A story told in letters from husband and wife with a male author creating the husband and a female author creating the wife. The book did not disappoint.

It tells the story of Sam and Hadley, a loving couple who lost their only son in a tragic airplane crash in Alaska. The trauma of grief tears at the fabric of their marriage and they begin divorce proceedings. Sam goes to Alaska to visit the accident scene; Hadley goes to a lonely cabin by the sea to paint. As the letters go back and forth between them, grief, anger, forgiveness, redemption, and finally hope and love are worked out in words. Simple plot.

But the overall effect of the book was more complex. As a new and somewhat reluctant visitant in the cyber world, timorously edging into email correspondance, discussion forums, and chat, I am relearning something Renaissance People forgot they knew. The written word is powerful, emotive, and creates connections that are more spiritual than intellectual. Sam and Hadley take the cyber-savvy reader on a familiar journey, confessional and revealing.

Rice and Monninger have taken the stuff of late night emails, added a plot (something real life seems to lack), and allowed us to read over their characters' shoulders as connection is made. Words knit souls together with alchemy that goes beyond mere physical chemistry to make minds one. The authors have done what fiction writers do best, take us out onto the ice of our social interaction and show us the cracks and fissures--and the heroism of those who, when the ice breaks and floats out to sea, find their way home.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Monster Magic

Is it enough to say I enjoyed Lauren Groff's first novel, The Monsters of Templeton, for personal reasons too complex to reveal? Probably not. So, then to facts:

My daughter called me last week and insisted that I read this book telling me that she had seen us in it, she had seen me, and her excitement level was such that I picked it up for my weekend reading. From the very first page, before the story even began, I found my own words looking back in print at me. How facts obscure truth and fiction frees it, how layers of meaning fall from language for each succeeding generation to find and lose and loose to find again, how people are deeper and cleaner and meaner and both less and more pure than they appear on the surface.

No, I am not the aging hippy mother who fried her mind on drugs then found religion. I am not the brilliant, golden-girl who fell and returned home in disgrace with a tiny one ill-conceived within. Neither am I any of the monstrous forebears this fallen heroine seeks out in her family geneology, or the impossible poignant monster pulled from the lake. I am the writer who sees the dance of words spinning out a story both cunningly crafted and painfully sweet.

This is a writer's book and I hope it will do a magic thing for non-writers--take them into a writer's mind with all its ghosts and voices and richly imagined characters, and let them see for themselves what it is to create a living thing--a story richly told.

There are few writers I would like to meet. Ms. Groff, you are one.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Red Leaves Leaves Me Cold

Red Leaves by Thomas H. Cook is a devastating book. Excellent writing. Careful, trim plotting. Clearly drawn characters. Terrible suspense. It has all the elements and follows through to its chilling conclusion keeping every promise. It is this mastery of the craft that defeats the reader and leaves him cold and sorrowing with the protagonist.

I picture Rod Serling with his clipped, analytical voice: "Enter Eric Moore, family man..." , and then we watch this perfect life dissolve into a horrible unreality come true. His teenage son is suspected of kidnapping, molesting, and murdering an 8 year old girl, and the father-narrator takes us through the corrosive suspicions that splay out from this accusation to touch his father, mother, sister, brother, wife, lawyer-friend, and child.

What is going on inside of you? The story takes us to the larger question we all must grapple with if we hope to live in peace with those we love. We can never know what is happening in the minds of others, even those to whom we have the closest ties. The author leaves us with the realization that when trust is gone, it doesn't matter what is happening behind those closed doors--good or evil, lack of trust destroys it all.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A (Yawn) Round-Heeled Woman

Jane Juska has written an account of her life and times as a (see title) round-heeled woman and she means the title just as it sounds. Tired of a sexless life after her divorce and nearing 70, she posts a singles ad with the blatant assertion that she wants sex and a lot of it. She will not go gentle into that good night.

The book is an exploration of the trauma of aging and, as a 60+ female, I identified strongly with her emotions and character; however, this book is non-fiction and couldn't be tied neatly at the end with a satisfying finish. Life is never that; it's just what it is and we cope.

She copes.

I wish she had done so in about 50 fewer pages. It's a good read with much more going on than sex, and even the sexy bits are handled graciously. 60+ women with husbands will recognize the mechanics, but it all gets a little tiresome toward the end.

She gets what she wants, but what she wants isn't what she gets.