You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Novel’ tag.

Imagining and then composing sequels to award-winning books is a stiff challenge for any writer, but Elizabeth Strout’s Olive, Again (2019) pulled it off. Her readers first met the disconcertingly honest Olive Kitteridge (2008) that created a firestorm of interest: Here‘s a woman creeping over the edge of middle age whose honesty dances atop the knife-edges of sarcasm and humor. She’s either loved or hated in her coastal town of Maine, and thrives on the resulting tension. The first Olive Kitteridge (2008) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and numerous accolades; in 2014 HBO put out a four-part miniseries.

Strout’s format for each novel merits comment: thirteen stand-alone segments, each containing short story components of setting, characters, plot and structure, conflict, climax, and resolution. Within each segment, the author weaves a significant piece of the plot from another character and thus carries the whole novel forward. Because this format necessitates the readers’ attending for these pieces, the emotional wallop is deep. 

Olive, Again picks up our protagonist in her seventies and eighties, still carrying her “big black handbag.” She has much to learn as she rear-ends the sensibilities of others, her barnacle-encrusted perceptions spewing anger, her shrinking world no longer working for her. Yet, she skates through on old age’s thin ice that sustains her and lands her ashore, with one true friend.

My experience with loss speaks of the authenticity of Olive’s: if accepted with grace, new life emerges from the old. We do change.

Greed has horrific expressions but none so despicable as found in the novel Before We Were Yours (2017) written by Lisa Wingate, based upon an actual child trafficking case that continued, undetected, for three decades, until its exposé in 1950.  

The abuse took place at one of the boarding homes of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis, Tennessee; its director, Georgia Tann. Widely touted as the Mother of orphans and unwanted children—even drawing the notice of Eleanor Roosevelt—she was far from that—cunning, manipulative, and money-hungry. Her accomplices were ever on the lookout for stray, unwanted children; lovely ones were ripe for adoption with lucrative fees.

The story stood by itself until the author fleshed it out with Depression-era river-rats snatched from a houseboat moored at Mud Island near the Mississippi River. Only after having been subdued and driven to Memphis were the Foss kids locked inside the sprawling white-columned home, in great disrepair, and forced to comply with the mean-spirited staff, including the sexually abusive janitor, and stinking accommodations. 

Suspense glistens on every page of this novel, Before We Were Yours. Seasonal changes, so integral to the plot, waft authentic colors, smells, and sounds into the southern panorama. Silence has never been more silent, nor sinister. Only an intrepid heart can follow the abrupt emotional and physical changes as the Fosses work out their destiny; their cat-and mouse stratagems with their jailers left me breathless.

Never having been involved with a child-victim of trafficking, I was deeply moved by Lisa Wingate’s brilliant handling of this material. Before We Were Yours is a must read.

As I flipped through Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five, it felt like I was being mesmerized by a kaleidescope: at its end, another rotated the wheel and produced a succession of actions, each containing bits of earlier ones that produced some continuity. A tough read, at the start, but its sheer absurdity kept me involved.

The centerpiece of Slaughterhouse-Five was the Allied firebombing of Dresden, a world-renowned cultural center in Germany, which the author survived as a POW in the larder of that building. This occurred in April 1945, weeks before the end of World War II. So psychically scorched was he that the novel only appeared years later: after the trashing of multiple outlines and drafts and fifteen thousand words. Only with the invention of the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, his doppelganger, did the novel take shape; he would tell Vonnegut’s story, but with embellishments. 

Following his Dresden experience Billy became “unstuck in time,” and subject to the whims of extraterrestrials living on the planet Tralfamadore. Whenever stressed, he could also time travel to another time/place that soothed his chronic anxiety and introversion.

His anemic world, like out own, was filled with undeveloped characters that go through the motions of living, until swallowed by death and the author’s often quoted comment, “And so it goes.” the scene-changer that alters the story line toward another manifestation of destruction and death.

Curious that Slaughterhouse-Five still sparks moral dread, though composed decades before our own. On a feeling level, I sense the present global mayhem: the prevalence of denial, escalating power grabs, minimizing of values, and the garble of speech. The killing of psyche and body continue, perhaps more cunningly now than the 1960s.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five has held up a mirror to our times: its reflection demands change, and it must begin with me.

Available on Amazon

%d bloggers like this: