Some keep going…
Biologist Angela Haynes is accustomed to dark, lonely nights as one of the few humans at a penguin research station in Patagonia. She has grown used to the cries of penguins before dawn, to meager supplies and housing, to spending her days in one of the most remote regions on earth. What she isn’t used to is strange men washing ashore, which happens one day on her watch.
The man won’t tell her his name or where he came from, but Angela, who has a soft spot for strays, tends to him, if for no other reason than to protect her birds and her work. When she later learns why he goes by an alias, why he is a refugee from the law, and why he is a man without a port, she begins to fall in love—and embarks on a journey that takes her deep into Antarctic waters, and even deeper into the emotional territory she thought she’d left behind.
Against the backdrop of the Southern Ocean, The Tourist Trail weaves together the stories of Angela as well as FBI agent Robert Porter, dispatched on a mission that unearths a past he would rather keep buried; and Ethan Downes, a computer tech whose love for a passionate activist draws him into a dangerous mission.
It’s not often that I find myself reading the books I review here for enjoyment but by page twenty that’s what had happened with The Tourist Trail. I found the background to the opening chapters (the close study of penguins) surprisingly interesting, although I shouldn’t be surprised by that: I’m an ex-Greenpeace groupie and used to keep an extraordinarily large number of poultry and peafowl. I wonder if without that personal interest this book would not have appealed to me so much: because a few more pages in the penguins were taking a back seat in the story and I began to notice problems with the text; and the more I read, the more glaring those problems became.
I found all the usual suspects: too many commas, some of them misplaced; a tendency to overwriting; and a lack of clarity which meant that I had to re-read portions of the text to make sure I had understood it correctly. In a few places time seemed too elastic, and in others events seemed to collapse in on themselves, making it difficult to fully understand how time was passing, or if events were meant to be running concurrently. But the biggest problems I had concerned lack of believable characterisation and motivation: and as I didn’t believe in the people who populated the book, I couldn’t surrender myself to the story.
My main problem was with Angela, who seemed to lack a significant amount of backbone and ethics: despite being described as passionate about the penguins she was studying she barely thought twice about encouraging a handsome stranger to hang about in the penguin habitat — which was strictly off-limits to the public in order to protect the birds — and when the handsome stranger grabbed her and kissed her without warning, and without any apparent attraction or flirtation between them, she barely reacted.
I’m not a fan of writers who characterise women as passive, confused beings; nor do I like reading about men who persist after a woman tells them to stop. Especially when the women who these men persist with suddenly realise (usually halfway through a kiss) that they have wanted to the man to do this all along. It’s lazy, clichéd, and bigoted and no matter how well-intentioned the writer is, or how naive they are about why this is also wrong, or how much they might insist that I’ve missed the point, I think it’s damaging to write such scenes. I read seventy-one of this book’s two hundred and ninety-one pages and despite its promising start I cannot recommend it.
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.”
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.