Home > novel > Among Us Women, by Joan Lerner

Among Us Women, by Joan Lerner

There’s no filter on Joan Lerner’s angry, grieving, hopeful heroine. Her emotions bubble just beneath the surface and regularly boil over. Among Us Woman is a sometimes wondrous, often painful labor of love.” – Steward O’Nan, author of the acclaimed novel, Songs for the Missing

“Plotting reminiscent of Susan Isaacs… with the extras of lush interiors, savvy design tips and elegant meal presentations. Lerner confronts controversial topics in her debut novel but she lightens the mood with eye candy.” – Linda Ellis, author of Death at a Dumpster

“Interior Designers will be especially taken with Joan Lerner’s novel, grounded as it is in her expertise. Joan, a past president of NJASID, who then served on the national board of directors, has written a gripping story of three women with differing design careers which provide important contexts for the fast moving plot. –Ria E. Gulian, ASID, CID, Past President NJASID

Joan Lerner tackles some tough women’s issues in her new novel Among Us Women. The three women who share the novel’s pages are very different but hold common ground with which most of us can identify and relate. The author’s insight is compelling and her conclusions thought-provoking. I liked it; you will too.” – Jean Kelchner, author of Backstage at the White House.

An exerpt from Among Us Women, was published in NEWN, New England Writers Network. “An excellent example of set piece scenes. There is plenty of conflict, emotion and motivation.” – Liz Aleshire, (1949-2008), author of 101 Ways You Can Help: How to Offer Comfort and Support to Those Who Are Grieving (Sourcebooks 2009)

This provocative novel is built on the overlapping stories of three women whose professional, marital, political, religious and sexual lives echo social controversies; feminism, abortion, AIDS, of the decade following the mid-eighties. One becomes pregnant through IVF and opts for single motherhood when her homosexual husband deserts her. Another is born again and believes her salvation lies in saving unborn babies intended for abortion. The third, a black feminist has an abortion when her white married lover tells her to “get rid of it.”

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I found punctuation errors throughout Among Us Women, and a marked inconsistency in Ms Lerner’s use of punctuation—check out the back cover copy which I’ve reproduced above to see some of the problems which are typical of this text. Ms Lerner could have avoided this particular problem by employing the services of a good copy-editor because punctuation problems can be corrected: but a lack of competence when it comes to writing can’t be dealt with so easily, and that’s where this book really failed.

While this book isn’t the worst I’ve read for this blog, it does need a lot of work. It’s set in the late 1980s, and the tone of the text reminds me of the slew of books which appeared after The Women’s Room became such a success. It’s dated, and badly, but that’s not the only problem: the dialogue is turgid and unbelievable and chock-full of exposition; there is no characterisation to speak of; and that lack of characterisation makes it very difficult for the reader to care for any of the characters, or to identify with the situations those characters find themselves in. And all this adds up to an unappealing heaviness of tone.

Ms Lerner has chosen a complicated point of view for this book: her three main characters speak in turn, telling their own sides of their overlapping stories. Establishing three distinct voices in one novel takes a skilled writer: Tess Stimpson does it beautifully in The Wife Who Ran Away, but Ms Lerner fails to make it work in this book. Often the only way I could work out which character was driving the narrative was to check with the chapter headings. It’s my view that novel-reading should be a pleasurable experience and not a confusing or difficult one, and this lack of clarity is a significant failure.

The author struggles with transitions, lurching from one event and location to another without pause or redirection; she often slides from one tense to another and back again, sometimes within a single paragraph; and the text is infused with a determination to somehow be worthy which, coupled with the issues that are discussed in this book leads to a slow, dull read.

I read fifteen of this book’s three hundred and fifty nine pages, and find nothing to recommend here.

  1. February 24, 2012 at 2:13 am

    Dear Jane: Thank you for including the wonderful testimonials from other authors.
    Among Us Women is a 2011 USA Book News Award Winning Finalist in the Fiction Chicklit/Womens Lit category. In 2010 it was the 3rd Place Finalist in Book Bundlz Book Picks.
    For more glowing reviews see the Amazon.com Among Us Women page.

  2. James W. Crissman
    February 24, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    It seems a stretch to blame the author for punctuation in blurbs written by others. You’re perhaps a little overly sensitive here, Jane. Using a semicolon where a colon was called for is hardly the end of the world.

    And while it would be nice if discussion of women’s reproductive rights were dated, our present crop of repuglican U.S. presidential wannabees has shown that it’s not.

    I think that the authors you review deserve “equal time.” How about a 5-10 page excerpt so that we can decide for ourselves if your assessment is fair?

  3. February 24, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks James. Your sensitive comments helped to assuage the pain I got from Janes insensitivity.
    The time frame within the novel is the mid-80’s to the mid 90’s. Since Jane was concentrating on
    every “tag” she could give Among Us Women, she never noticed that. I will write again soon with
    more info. In the meantime, please look at my web site to see who I( am and my accomplishments.
    http://www.among-us.com and what the novel is really about. Jane doesn’t have a clue because as she admits she read only 15 pages of an over 300 page novel. Joan Lerner

  4. Jane Smith
    February 25, 2012 at 7:43 am

    James Crissman wrote,

    It seems a stretch to blame the author for punctuation in blurbs written by others. You’re perhaps a little overly sensitive here, Jane. Using a semicolon where a colon was called for is hardly the end of the world.

    James, I haven’t “blamed” anyone for anything: I’ve just pointed out the errors that I’ve found. And you’ve made an error too, in assuming I was referring to the copy provided by other writers. If you look at the back cover copy I’ve quoted above you’ll see that there are inconsistencies in punctuation in the attributions, which come after the passages written by others; and if you read my review again you’ll note that I point out that these inconsistencies are typical of the problems I found within the book.

    And while it would be nice if discussion of women’s reproductive rights were dated, our present crop of repuglican U.S. presidential wannabees has shown that it’s not.

    I didn’t suggest that the discussion was inappropriate: just that the tone and style had dated. You’re reading things into my comments which aren’t there.

    I think that the authors you review deserve “equal time.” How about a 5-10 page excerpt so that we can decide for ourselves if your assessment is fair?

    If you want to set up a review blog which provides long extracts there’s nothing stopping you, but I’m not going to do that.

    A large extract of the kind you suggest would turn this blog into a great wall of text, which I don’t think would particularly useful or reader-friendly. If anyone wants to read more of the books I review most of them feature on their authors’ websites, and many of those websites provide a few sample chapters.

    More importantly, you’ll note that I very rarely quote directly from the books I review. I’ve thought about this very carefully and have decided it’s not a good idea here: some of the books I review are pretty clumsy, and it would be all too easy for people who comment to pick holes in any quotes I provided. I can’t watch over this blog all the time, and I don’t want my reviews to be made any more painful for the writers concerned.

  5. Jane Smith
    February 25, 2012 at 8:40 am

    amonguswomen wrote,

    Dear Jane: Thank you for including the wonderful testimonials from other authors.
    Among Us Women is a 2011 USA Book News Award Winning Finalist in the Fiction Chicklit/Womens Lit category. In 2010 it was the 3rd Place Finalist in Book Bundlz Book Picks.
    For more glowing reviews see the Amazon.com Among Us Women page.

    I’m glad that your book has attracted some positive attention. Many congratulations.

    Thanks James. Your sensitive comments helped to assuage the pain I got from Janes insensitivity.

    Joan, I’m sorry you think I was insensitive: how do you suggest I improve? Obviously, I’m not prepared to be dishonest in my reviews: I am going to continue to be as fair as I can to all the books I look at here. But if you can think of a way that I can do that in a more sensitive manner, while still giving my readers a clear indication of the pros and cons of the books I review, I’d love to know.

    The time frame within the novel is the mid-80′s to the mid 90′s. Since Jane was concentrating on
    every “tag” she could give Among Us Women, she never noticed that.

    I am aware of the period in which your book is set: you make that clear in the back cover copy, which is the first thing I read when I review a book here, and if I remember rightly you provide dates in your chapter headings (I don’t have your book to hand so can’t check that). My comment about how the book has dated badly refers to how the books was written, not what it was about.

    I will write again soon with
    more info. In the meantime, please look at my web site to see who I( am and my accomplishments.
    http://www.among-us.com and what the novel is really about. Jane doesn’t have a clue because as she admits she read only 15 pages of an over 300 page novel. Joan Lerner

    Joan, my review isn’t an attack on you: it’s a review of the book. I’m sure you have accomplished much in your life, but your accomplishments have very little to do with your book. Most readers will know nothing about you or all you’ve achieved when they first see your book: it has to succeed or fail on its own merits.

    Do you think that readers with money in their pockets read more than 15 pages of your book when deciding whether or not to buy it? Or do you think they make up their minds about it much more quickly than that? And if you disagree with my reviewing methods why did you submit your book to me for review?

    And finally: do you think that making poorly-structured, randomly-punctuated, vaguely insulting comments here is going to rectify any of the faults I found in your book? You might want to consider The Author’s Big Mistake before you comment here again.

  6. February 25, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Jane: I commented upon your excessively hurtful tags. Perhaps your method of reviewing a novel is based on what you can criticize, punctuation being your foremost theme and your disinterest in womens issues. I guess I sent you a copy of the book that I was discarding and the present
    book has been revised for punctuation.
    Since I believe that most readers are apt to go to at least page 50 before deciding to read on I have captured a goodly share of interest in Among Us Women.The premise of the book which is more important to those others who reviewed it is that women’s issues in the mid 80s to mid 90s are very prominent in the news today and women who are interested in womens lit including those who gave me the Awards found soured relationships, ethnicity, abortion, AIDS, homosexuality and empowerment of such importance they were captured.
    Finally, what I object to more than anything else is your nasty tags and I want to warn other authors not to submit to your treatment. Joan.

  7. February 25, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    To amonguswomen.

    You sent your book to Jane for review. If you read her guidelines you will surely have a good idea of how she works. There’s no point complaining now. Her review is about your book and how it’s written. Not about you and your many achievements. It’s a novel aimed and readers today and that’s how Jane has pitched her review.

    Two more points.

    1. Do you believe that book-buyers read 50 pages of a book before they decide to buy it?

    2. Jane may well be ‘uninterested’ in women’s issues (although I doubt it) but she is certainly not ‘disinterested’ otherwise she wouldn’t have offered her opinion.

    I would have thought a serious writer might know the difference.

  8. Jane Smith
    February 25, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Oh, Joan. I warned you about The Author’s Big Mistake.

    Jane: I commented upon your excessively hurtful tags.

    Joan: those tags are not personal insults intended to upset you: they simply list some of the problems I found with your book. You should try to take this less personally and consider that I might have a point.

    Perhaps your method of reviewing a novel is based on what you can criticize, punctuation being your foremost theme and your disinterest in womens issues.

    My method of reviewing is spelled out very clearly on this blog. I note the problems I find, punctuation included. But a “disinterest in women’s issues” (Sally’s already discussed that one, but you might like to note the apostrophe) isn’t one of the problems I look for, and your persistence in misinterpreting my comment that your book is dated only proves that you need to work on your logic and reasoning skills as well as your writing.

    I guess I sent you a copy of the book that I was discarding and the present
    book has been revised for punctuation.

    Yep, that’ll be it. You sent me the wrong copy of your book. If only you’d sent me the right one, with all the punctuation corrected! What a different review I could have written! Because having the book “revised for punctuation” is bound to have fixed the confusing, convoluted, dated, info-dumpy text and no doubt it’ll have sorted out all those tense-slippages and two-dimensional characters as well. Hurrah!

    Since I believe that most readers are apt to go to at least page 50 before deciding to read on I have captured a goodly share of interest in Among Us Women.

    Have you ever watched people choosing books in bookshops? They pick up a book; glance at the back cover copy; then look at the first page and will perhaps read half of it before they put it down again and move onto the next one.

    They certainly don’t read a full fifty pages before they decide to buy it or not.

    You’ve got another fallacy in this sentence, by the way. You state that your belief that people will read at least fifty pages of a book before deciding to read on has led directly to your attracting interest in your book. The one does not logically follow the other and your frequent use of such constructions leads to your book being confusing and difficult to read.

    The premise of the book which is more important to those others who reviewed it is that women’s issues in the mid 80s to mid 90s are very prominent in the news today

    The premise of the book is that women’s issues in the 80s and 90s are prominent in the news today? That’s not a premise, and nor is it a correct statement of fact. Again, more confusion.

    and women who are interested in womens lit including those who gave me the Awards found soured relationships, ethnicity, abortion, AIDS, homosexuality and empowerment of such importance they were captured.

    Puttng a shopping-list of issues into your book doesn’t automatically make it good, no matter how important those issues are. In fact, it can make your book turgid and dull and patronising, and I’m afraid that’s what’s happened here. I’m glad you’ve found other reviewers who liked your book: but telling me about them isn’t going to change my opinion of your book.

    Finally, what I object to more than anything else is your nasty tags and I want to warn other authors not to submit to your treatment. Joan.

    Nasty tags? Let’s remind ourselves of the tags I used for this review:

    15 pages read, convoluted, dated, exposition, lacks clarity, poor characterisation, punctuation problems, tense slips.

    I don’t find anything nasty about those tags. Nasty would be personal insults; calling you stupid or ugly, something like that. But a reviewer commenting that your book lacks clarity, or has punctuation problems? Nope. That’s not nasty. Not when it’s true.

    The thing about those tags is that I found all those problems in your book, and a lot more besides. I know it must be very difficult for you to learn that there is so much wrong with your book, and I’m sorry you find it so very hurtful. But your hurt doesn’t mean that I’m wrong.

    Joan, you have a choice. You can continue to rail against my review, or you can take a step back and think about my comments and wonder if I might have a point. And while you do that you would be very wise to remember my warning about The Author’s Big Mistake. I do hope you will.

  9. February 25, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    Sorry Jane you’ve had such an unprofessional self-published author sending you a book for review, unprepared (or unwilling) to accept critical comments. I really don’t know why they bother – you make it very clear how your blog works and what an author can expect from you.

    As for reading to page 50 before deciding whether to read on or not, that’s irrelevant to book sales. I don’t have enough time to give books more than a couple of pages before I decide to buy or not. Only rarely do I read further, usually while waiting for my kids to pick something. (Last one was Gayle Forman’s IF I STAY and I bought it because I couldn’t put it down. Even though I almost finished the book in the shop. But I felt that the author deserved my money for writing such a wonderful book.)

    Books I already have get max 30 pages before I throw them to the side and reach for the next one off my to-be-read pile. I don’t care how worthy the issues – if you bore my socks off, you’re out. I can always find another book on the same subject, one I’ll hopefully like better.

  10. Jane Smith
    February 26, 2012 at 7:31 am

    Maren, thanks for that.

    I know that a negative review can be upsetting, I really do. But in my reviews I try to give people an honest indication of why their books could have been rejected by trade publishers or agents; and how they can improve their next work to give them a better chance of attracting more readers and developing a following.

    Some writers just don’t want to hear it, though. They want to be told that their work, and by extension their own good self, is wonderful. They’re so convinced of it that anything else just has to be intended maliciously. I guess it’s one of the perils of only having friends and family beta-read for you.

    Joan, if you’re still reading I hope you’re considering the issues I highlighted, and will try to look at your book with a more open mind. I know it’s tough, but please try. Your work can only improve if you do.

  11. James W. Crissman
    February 26, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Okay, Jane, I re-read of the back cover copy, this time with my editor’s hat pulled all the way down over my ears to better hear what you were seeing, and now appreciate what you were saying. I’m afraid you are right — but you knew that.

    Still, I do think that a small excerpt would be instructive to many readers, as your primary audience appears to be novice authors. Without at least some of the reviewed text to see for ourselves, it is hard to fully accept your harsh judgements, especially on a book with this many glowing blurbs.

    Brutal honesty is just gratuitous violence if it comes without the opportunity to actually absorb a lesson.

    Rave on!

  12. February 26, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    But James…if you look at Jane’s submissions guidelines, you will see she makes it very clear she’s going to be tough. (I prefer that word to brutal, by the way.) She doesn’t pick books at random just for the heck of it.

  13. Jane Smith
    February 26, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    Here’s the thing, though, James. The books I feature on here are sent to me for review, not for editing. By the time I see them there shouldn’t be any issues for me to find; and I’m not here to provide a free editing service for self-publishers who can’t or won’t self-edit.

    I give more than enough information for most of the writers I feature here to work with. If they choose to ignore me, or to deal with my advice by having a tantrum, that’s up to them. It doesn’t change my opinion and it doesn’t improve their work.

  14. February 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    “Thanks James. Your sensitive comments helped to assuage the pain I got from Janes insensitivity.”

    If an author is concerned about the feedback they may receive, it’s probably best not to send a book in to be reviewed.

    Jane is probably one of the most honest, yet genteel, reviewers I know. As she has pointed out, hers wasn’t a personal attack, but a commentary from an informed source – which is what I assume you were looking for, rather than undeserved high praise.

  15. Richard Kurzkoch
    February 26, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    “Perhaps your method of reviewing a novel is based on what you can criticize, punctuation being your foremost theme and your disinterest in women’s issues.”

    There’s nothing wrong in using the word “disinterest” in this sense (i.e. uninterest). Those who say otherwise should consult a usage guide.

  16. John
    February 27, 2012 at 1:41 am

    Jane, you’re a saint. Keep up the good work.

  17. February 27, 2012 at 2:59 am

    If I were to send a book to Jane for review, I would prefer she link to amazon rather than show excerpts, from a purely mercenary point of view. People are likely to be curious about the books Jane reviews, even (especially?) the really bad ones. Some of those people will satisfy their curiosity by clicking that amazon link. And some of those people might end up buying the book. If Jane satisfied that curiosity here, I think people would be less likely to go to amazon to look at the book. Jane does every self-published author she reviews a huge favor simply by linking their book. The advice is gravy.

    By the way, I did click on the link to see for myself. If I’d picked up the book at a bookstore, I wouldn’t have read past the first two paragraphs, and that’s being generous. Fifty pages? No way.

  18. Jane Smith
    February 27, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Richard Kurkoch wrote,

    “There’s nothing wrong in using the word “disinterest” in this sense (i.e. uninterest). Those who say otherwise should consult a usage guide.”

    I followed your suggestion and consulted not one, not two, but three usage guides. They all suggest that “disinterest” and “uninterest” have separate meanings, but are now often used interchangeably as many people don’t understand the difference between them.

    That common usage isn’t necessarily correct.

  19. Richard Kurzkoch
    February 27, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Disinterest/uninterest: As usual, Merriam Webster has a large section on this. http://tinyurl.com/MWdisinterest

  20. Richard Kurzkoch
    February 27, 2012 at 10:48 am

    There’s no problem with using “disinterest” in that way. However, note Jane’s misuse of “disinterestED” here (taken from this blog):

    Example 1
    A good short story is more than a vignette: something or someone has to change in the course of it; its characters need to learn things, or change their minds, and move on in some way, otherwise the piece of writing—no matter how beautifully phrased it is—will be little more than a series of disjointed actions, observed by a disinterested reader.

    Example 2
    What this means, of course, is that the reader is hard-pushed to empathise with the story before her, or with the characters which appear, and without empathy reading is very unsatisfying. We need to be emotionally involved in a book to enjoy it and I’m afraid that this book left me feeling completely disinterested.

  21. February 27, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    That doesn’t read like misuse to me.

  22. Jane Smith
    February 27, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Richard, I see no problem with my use of “disinterested” in the first example you provide and the link you provided to Merriam-Webster (note the hyphen) seems to agree with my interpretation.

    You’re right that my use of it in the second example stands on somewhat shaky ground, but here I refer you to my previous comment on the matter:

    I followed your suggestion and consulted not one, not two, but three usage guides. They all suggest that “disinterest” and “uninterest” have separate meanings, but are now often used interchangeably as many people don’t understand the difference between them.

    That common usage isn’t necessarily correct.

    Now, shall we move on?

  23. James W. Crissman
    February 27, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    What a civilized conversation this is. Could we move to politics? As a resident of Michigan, the state currently under siege by Romney and Sanitorium, I’m feeling the need to sling some mud.

  24. Jane Smith
    February 27, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    You have my sympathies. But perhaps Facebook would better suit your mudslinging needs.

    Good luck.

  25. Richard Kurzkoch
    February 27, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    @jane You keep conflating the meaning of the words “disinterest” and “disinterested”. If you don’t understand the difference (and I’ve seen Sally doesn’t understand the difference), then maybe stop reviewing bad books. Or maybe rename this blog to “Pot/Kettle Reviews”.

  26. Jane Smith
    February 27, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    I think “Pot/Kettle Comments” works a bit better at this point, Richard. I’m sorry you seem so fixated on this point, and that you seem unable to understand my comments, but there you go. We can’t all understand everything.

  27. February 28, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Richard said:
    If you don’t understand the difference, then maybe stop reviewing bad books.

    Perhaps when the Great Cosmic Muffin appoints you the King of All Things Writerly, your advice will have more merit. Until then, I can’t help but think you’d be happier beating some useless argument into the ground on someone else’s blog.

  28. March 1, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    If you’re at a restaurant and you take your first spoonful of soup, only to realize the soup contains about a cupful of salt, would you keep eating in the hopes that the taste would improve?

    The same thing applies to books – and I don’t read fifty pages. I read one, maybe two pages at the most to decide whether to continue. Just like you don’t need to eat the whole thing to tell the difference between an apple pie and a cow pie.

    And thanks to the food analogies, now I’m hungry.

  29. James W. Crissman
    March 1, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    Actually, I’m afraid I’ve had that soup. Being a hungry guy, I usually forge ahead, end up with swollen ankles. I once swallowed a bad mussel despite the fact that it tasted bad. Puked all night. I’m just a clean plate kid. Same with beer.

    But I’m with you on books. Unless of course there’s sex. Then it’s like food. I just keep shoveling it in. Just finished William Boyd’s “Any Human Heart” on MP3 audio. Loved it. Interesting, well written, well read, and spiced perfectly.

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