Book Review: Gilead

2017 Reading Challenge: Reading for Growth

A Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award Winner

For this category, I chose Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2005.

Gilead, set in Gilead, Iowa, begins as a letter by John Ames, an elderly pastor, tgileado his young son to provide his son with the legacy of a father that he will not have the opportunity to know well. The story continues as this letter throughout with only breaks between subjects or writing sessions. More than just a letter of wisdom handed down to this son, Gilead becomes a journey of a life well examined as Ames is confronted with reconciling his relationship with the adult son of his best friend in the present day as he recounts his memories of the past.

This epistolary novel (a novel written as a series of documents) forces the reader to slow down and let the words of the good pastor work their way into your heart. Without flash and fast-paced drama, it surprised me by becoming a book I couldn’t put down.

Ames does not shy away from revealing his struggles and flaws, giving the reader a fully developed (maybe even more than fully developed) character. Gilead felt more like the memoir of an actual person than fiction and that explains my liking it so much.

 

Are you still with me? Do you have a pet?

I have been MIA from the blogoverse here, but with good reason. As much as I’d love a job where I just sat around and wrote stuff (apparently it IS possible, so I hear), I decided to attempt a venture (adventure?) where I may be able to make money sooner while at the same time not have a boss.

This will still be my writing website, and I still intend to cash in on my YeahWrite Bronze membership perk of having one of the YW editors give me a consultation. So when I’m not painting, I’ll be over here writing. And getting back to the remedial writing advice, which means getting back to the novel.

Citra2-056What’s that? Painting? Yes, painting portraits of pets… any kind that has legs. I have my own website, ellenbehm.com, which is scary for a baby boomer (just barely) like myself, but there you go. So, check that out. I’ve set up some dedicated social media site, as one does these days: facebook.com/EllenPaintsPets and instagram @EllenPaintsPets.

My twitter handle, @ellenbehm, is the same as always, it’s just that now I have to censor myself a wee bit.

Drop on by and see what I’ve done with the new place!

What I’ve Been Up To

This is one of those “I’m here and I’m alive” kinds of posts… so, what have I been up to since I don’t appear to be blogging around these parts very much. How about some highlights, in no particular order?

  1. Thinking about writing Yeah Write posts, if not actually writing them.
  2. Checking out Yeah Write’s updated website and its fancy new badges. Can’t wait to use a new one for some actual grid entries!
  3. Planning a trip for my granddaughter’s first birthday!
  4. Knitting for the little precious one!
  5. Practicing painting pets.
  6. Contemplating getting a job, but not wanting a Job.
  7. Writing a business plan that will lead to more of a vocation than a job.
  8. Putting my novel revising, if not all the way on the back burner, not on the front burner either. See #5-7.
  9. Choosing a website builder. Planning a new facebook page.
  10. Obsessing over the state of the nation on twitter.
  11. Church stuff (deacon duties, bell ringing, being crafty)
  12. Doing some suicide prevention training.
  13. Reading and finishing books, but, ahem, behind on my reviews. (Upcoming are Gilead, She’s Come Undone and The Sugar Queen.)
  14. Decluttering (the beginning phase, which seems to involve more thinking about and less doing).
  15. Dental stuff.
  16. Sleeping better (yes, really… have a new sleep apnea oral appliance… see #15).
  17. Discovering I can listen to audiobooks from the library on my computer while I paint (what? did everyone already know that? late to the party again!)
  18. Playing Two Dots.
  19. Giving up sugar for Lent (except for wedding and birthday celebrations).
  20. Life is good.

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

2017 Reading Challenge: Reading for Fun

A Book You’ve Read Before

handmaidIf you’d never heard of this book before, the odds are good that if you live in the US that you have now. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, published in 1985 has seen its sales soar and at this moment, sits at #3 on Amazon’s hourly updated best seller list.

I read this book most probably in the early 1990s and enjoyed it enough to search out other books by Atwood. But I enjoyed it then as a dystopian novel that was just fiction. Just Fiction.

Did she portend the future? With a group of men making decisions about women’s healthcare, her book about a theocratic military dictatorship taking away all rights of women seems more relevant today than it did when I first read it. I read it more carefully this second time around and found it more horrifying.

Written in first person by Offred (pronounced Of-Fred), she describes her situation and day to day activities assigned as a handmaid to The Commander. As a handmaid, her sole responsibility is to become pregnant by The Commander, carry the baby and then hand it over at birth to him and his wife, Serena Joy. What she can and cannot do is strictly regulated with her only freedom being daily shopping trips for the family’s provisions with a fellow (assigned) handmaid.

In between chapters describing her current life, Offred describes what life was like before government was overthrown, her life with her husband and daughter.

Truly amazing, what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations.

~Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Atwood considers this book speculative fiction vs science fiction because nothing is in the books that either hasn’t happened in society before or that is possible. And there is really nothing too science-y about it anyway. In fact, it seems that society has moved backward in scientific development. Sounds like something that could happen with climate change deniers, the removal of scientific information from government websites and the potential dissolution of some government agencies.

This week, a group of women in Texas donned red capes and white winged bonnets to protest proposed anti-abortion measures in the Texas senate. This really happened. I’m thankful that women and men are outraged enough about what is happening in regard to health care to take action and be seen, and if making a point about losing women’s rights by wearing costumes from the imagination of Margaret Atwood, then more power to them.

The Handmaid’s Tale is not the only dystopian speculative fiction novel to see an increase in sales. 1984 by George Orwell is currently #1 on Amazon’s Science Fiction best seller list and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley has also found some new readers.

Be careful what you wish for.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

2017 Reading Challenge: Reading for Fun

A Book You Chose for the Cover

2017-02-04_23-26-09_000Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. That’s a sentiment I’ve always tried to live by, so when the reading challenge has “read a book you chose for the cover”… Well, that’s a bit of a head scratcher. And so technically becomes like the free space on the bingo card.

Since I’m trying to get all 24 books read without repeating a category (not to say that I won’t repeat a category) some books may just have to fit into more than one. I have already read the juicy memoir, so I’m putting Amy Schumer’s book The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo into the cover category. According to Amy, this book isn’t a memoir anyway because she is too young to have written a memoir. It is simply a book of stories about her life.

PotAto. PotAHto.

If you know anything about Amy Schumer’s stand up comedy, you know that she is unapologetically raunchy and will say almost anything about sex and her sex life. (She does not give out the names of her partners.) Her book is no different. In fact, if you catch her Leather Special on Netflix it is the equivalent of a musician going on tour with their new album. Many of the stories in her book are retold in shorter comedy-style bites on her special. The special on Netflix is a hour long.

It takes longer than an hour to read her book, and if you are sensitive to her preferred topics and language you may need a palate cleanser between chapters. If you are offended in any way by her topics and language, you’ll want to give this book a pass.

Her book is not all raunch. Amy was deeply upset by the Lafayette theater shooting during a showing of her movie, Trainwreck, leaving two young women dead and others injured. This has prompted her to become an advocate for gun control. She mentions it on her special and has promised to speak the names of the two women whenever she can. Promise delivered. In the book she goes into much more detail about her efforts and provides more information at the end of the book about how others can get involved.

Amy Schumer is a hard working comedian who has earned her moment in the sun and I respect her for that. I also admire her ability to say what she wants to say without censor. In a society where women especially are afraid to offend and afraid to speak their minds the ability to speak up and stand up for yourself and others is invaluable.

However, I’m not really the demographic she’s playing to. Her hour-long special was plenty for me, and it’s unlikely I’ll pay money to see her in person. And I while did enjoy her book I didn’t love it and I suspect she’s okay with that.

Oh, and the lower back tattoo? You’ll have to read the book to find out if it’s real or not.

The Noise on the Roof

A thud on the roof woke Melissa from a light sleep. When she went to bed, she had looked forward to the predicted storm. The rumble of thunder and pounding rain always had a soothing effect on her. She got up to inspect the thud with some trepidation, however, aware that she was meant to be away on a business trip. Her groggy middle of the night mind feared something worse than a tree.

Of course, she knew that was ridiculous. Who would break into a house from the roof? She retrieved a flashlight from her nightstand drawer and grabbed the baseball bat in the laundry room for protection. Her ex-husband claimed that she lacked the ability to shoot someone because she was simply too nice, but that maybe she could scare off an intruder with the bat. She knew that pushing the panic button on her alarm console might be the best solution, provided she wasn’t in the middle of a life or death confrontation. Hands shaking, she crept to her front door.

As she tiptoed, the shrill ring of her cell phone made her jump out of her skin.

“Melissa? It’s me. When you get home from whatever stupid trip you’re on, I’ll be dead.”

“What?! Dan? I AM home. Where are you?!”

“What?! I’m on your roof. Did you see that dumbass Frank walking his dog just now? I think he called 911. Hang on. I’m coming down.”

This was all too much. Too much rain. Too much thunder. Too much drama. Too much Dan. Melissa sat on the floor, dizzy and shaking with anxiety. She heard more thumps, thuds and cursing before she heard pounding on her patio door. Instead of standing, she crawled toward that door and pulled herself up by the handle to let him in. As she opened the door, the momentum from his knocking propelled him into the kitchen and he fell in a sodden heap.

“Ohmigod! Dan? Dan! DAN!” Melissa screamed and got down next to him, afraid that he was unconscious or worse.

Rolling onto his back, Dan peeled open his eyes and slurred, “Melissa. I’m okay. Not okay. Why are you here? Just let me die. Don’t let them take me away.” He began to cry.

“I am not letting you die,” she said, sitting back on her heels and hearing for the first time a siren in the distance. “But I am getting you a towel and putting on a pot of coffee. And I might just let them take you away.”

The deafening siren stopped in front of Melissa’s house, confirming that their neighbor Frank had called 911. Melissa left Dan whimpering on the floor and got up to answer another pounding on a door. Her head pounded in time with the beating. Couldn’t they just have rung the doorbell?

“Officer.”

“Ma’am, we got a call that there is a person, probably intoxicated, on your roof. Have you heard anything?”

She started to speak, but couldn’t find the shape of yes in her mouth. Dan needed help, probably a lot of help, but she could not bear to see him taken off by the police. She rubbed her temples and heard herself lying. “No, just the storm blowing things around. I’m fine.”

“Well, I hope you don’t mind if I take a look around your property a bit to make sure no one is here, then I’ll be on my way.”

She closed the door and leaned back against it, closing her eyes and sliding to the floor. She was about to drift off to sleep when she smelled coffee.

Two steaming cups sat in the center of the table. Dan had fallen asleep with his head on the table and a hand around one of the cups. Melissa kissed his still wet hair and lay down on a nearby sofa, praying this would all make sense in the daylight.

P. S. I welcome constructive criticism. Tell me what you liked and what you didn’t!

Remedial Novel Writing – Lesson 4

Or How to Write a Novel When You Have No Idea What You’re Doing

Ah, revising. My revising is really becoming more like rewriting. I have absolutely rewritten the beginning so I’m still really at the beginning. Since my revising is going along at a snail’s pace, I thought I’d address one of the things that can stump a remedial novel writer: what to say when someone asks what you’re writing. For example, you might say, “I’m writing science fiction novel about… “. Or “I’m writing a historical fiction novel that’s set in World War I.”

Or, you could be writing, as I am, a story that is not so easily categorized. Today’s lesson will cover:

Genres and Subgenres

The easy definition is that genres are just a way of categorizing your writing. Since this is about novel writing, I’m going to assume that you’re writing fiction. Other primary writing genres are non-fiction, drama, poetry and from one source I found, folklore (which, to me would be a sub-genre of fiction).

So. My novel is fiction. Almost entirely made up with a smattering of things that may or may not be true. For example, it’s set in Texas (a real place) in a small town called Grace (not a real place).

But then what? This is where it gets a little hairy, people. Some of the most basic kinds of subgenres you will find are historical fiction, science fiction, thrillers, horror, mysteries, women’s (huh? Did Hemingway write “men’s” fiction? I think not), fantasy and speculative. If you said, what the EF is speculative fiction, I was right there with ya!

The best definition I found (and most thorough explanation) was written by author Annie Neugebauer in her blog post What is Speculative Fiction? She writes that speculative fiction is “any fiction in which the ‘laws’ of that world (explicit or implied) are different than ours.” She also has an excellent Venn diagram explaining spec fic and the inherent problems in being too rigid in how that diagram works. In other words, the lines she draws can be “blurred” and you can have a novel that falls into more than one section of the diagram.

This is exactly the problem I have in describing a novel in any one or two subgenres. The problems is that publishers need/want that definition. Can you write a romantic forensic thriller where the hero has supernatural powers? Well, yeah.

None of this matters too much if you decide to self publish except that you want to at least know the best group or groups of people to aim a marketing campaign at and if you want to sell any copies, then marketing is a necessary evil. If you want to take a crack at traditional publishing, then you need to know the best place to pitch your manuscript to. If you pitch a speculative medical thriller to a publisher or agent with a primary interest in World War II erotic romances your manuscript is going to be flying right back at you faster than you can say Andromeda Strain.

Confused? I’m confessing that I am a bit because sometimes unexpected events in your novel happen that effect the category. Imagine my surprise when my heroine finds a dead body in the vault of the old bank building she bought and turned into an art gallery with living quarters upstairs.

That’s a mystery that I’m certainly going to have to deal with during this revising period!

By the way, this Writer’s Digest article has great explanations of the various (and many) subgenres.

Remedial Novel Reading Lesson 1, Lesson 2, Lesson 3