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Among Us Women, by Joan Lerner

February 23, 2012 29 comments

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.

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As They Grow Older: S M Cashmore

November 19, 2009 7 comments

Witch Street is paved with stories for children. Strange stories. Spooky stories. Halloween stories.

This collection, AS THEY GROW OLDER, has a life of its own. Starting with The Toyman and The Grumpy Browns to fascinate the very young, the stories themselves grow older, stranger and spookier, until the almost adult Last and Longest Story at the very end.

AS THEY GROW OLDER should be read with the lights dimmed, read aloud at Halloween. It doesn’t matter how old your children are, there is a spooky story in this collection written especially for them to listen to…..

If they dare.

This collection of short, spooky stories is cleaner than most, with a mercifully-low error-count. The writer has a fluent, if rather naive style; and he has a good grasp of grammar, too. These things count strongly in his favour and were I reading this as a slush-pile submission rather than a published book, those good points would mean that he was automatically in the top ten per cent of the work before me.

He would still receive a rejection, though. His tone is at times a little patronising and while that might have worked a few decades ago it’s no longer acceptable in children’s fiction; and his stories, while perfectly pleasant, are neither convincing nor compelling. The story Nearly Nine describes a monster which lives in the narrow space behind the wardrobe: consequently, it’s shaped like a bath mat (and I quite liked that idea). The bath mat monster ripples across the bedroom floor one night, creeps up onto the bed where a child lies sleeping and—here’s the punchline—wishes him a happy birthday. And that’s the end of the story. This could have been done so much better: had the monster approached the child a few times but been thwarted, and had the reader had known that the monster felt the time was running out, the reader would have wondered why it wanted to reach the boy and there would have been some real tension to the story. As it is, we have some funny description of the monster, a brief moment of tension—and then it’s over, and nothing much has happened.

I’d advise this writer to work more on the structure of his stories, to consider developing their narrative arcs a little more fully, and to update his tone just a little. I read a respectable forty-nine pages out of a total of 369, and feel that this writer has plenty of unrealised potential.

A Different Kind Of Sentinel: Sir E J Drury II

October 8, 2009 Comments off

Personal Memoir

Having grown up in eastern Missouri, Sir E. J. entered the Navy after a brief stint at the US Naval Academy. For two long years did he struggle, in and out of sleep, with the true enemy of mankind — the Beast. And for the past twenty has he struggled to give form to this book, that you, the reader, might decide to join the fray and save humanity from its self and the destructive side of its animal nature.

A TREK THROUGH THE DARK SIDE IN SEARCH OF SOUL AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

“…a truly remarkable memoir that is as much about the author as it is about the soul and their eventual reunion…”

“Haven’t you heard? The Beast has been unleashed.”
“What beast?” you ask.
“Why that part of Nature which still defies Consciousness.”
“I don’t understand,” you exclaim.
“You will by the time you finish reading this story. Trust me.”
“Why should I?” You inquire.
“You have your soul to free and heaven to gain, and little time for either.”

“Once I started reading the book, I couldn’t put it down until I’d finished it. You go where no one has ever dared. And for that you are to be commended.” David Stewart, Stewart Publishing

“It may very well go on to become the book of the century, or for that matter, the book of the millennium.” Harold Terbrock, Retired Carpenter

Sir E. J. Drury II (who is credited as the author of A Different Kind of Sentinel) has a pretty good grasp of punctuation overall, although he uses far too many commas which has the effect of stopping the flow of his words and giving his whole text a choppy, staccato beat. And this over-use of commas is part of a much larger problem: the style that this writer favours.

He habitually inverts his sentences and uses a dated and particular vocabulary. These two stylistic quirks combine to give his writing a dialect-like air, and the closest I can get to describing the origins of that dialect is to suggest that it’s a sort of pidgin-Biblical. It’s nowhere near as rich, textural or magnificent as the text of the King James version, though, and rather than accentuating and emphasising Drury’s text, these linguistic quirks of his only serve to knock his many writerly failures into sharper focus.

Drury’s uncomfortable style, his frequent and perplexing changes of tense, the many nonsensical sentences that I found, and his insistence on recounting great swathes of his own dreams within the text, meant that I read just five of this book’s two hundred and eighty six pages. Sadly, this is another self-published book which fails to please.