Big Shoulders by William Jamerson (2007. Pine Stump. ISBN 978-1-882882-12-0)

The back cover jacket of this “coming of age in a CCC camp” novel reveals that the author is an award winning filmmaker (Camp Forgotten: The CCC in Michigan) so when my writer-turned-aunt handed me this book, being that I am a historian by training, I thought, “what the heck.” I must say, even though I managed to finish the story ( ever the optimist, I rarely ever give up on a novel), it’s not a story that I’d recommend to anyone over the age of 16. So. in addition to all of the book’s other flaws and faults, I’d add false advertising to the mix as well. Why?

There’s nothing on the back cover or inside the novel that warns the reader that the book is written for middle and high schoolers. That’s probably because the author did not intentionally set out to write a juvenile novel. But that, in the end, is what readers are left with. Beyond that, Jamerson’s writing style, while accurate, is stiff and analytic and contains few, if any, memorable scenes or passages. The old adage for budding fiction authors, “write like your parents are dead” is completely absent. Mr. Jamerson, while likely a very nice man and a find filmmaker, takes zero risk in his prose. The protagonist, Nick Radzinski-a city boy claimed by the camps for redemption-ambles along in this tale, avoiding, as the author does, any real consequence or conflict or revelation of mind or spirit. Two major plot points, Nick’s looming fight with the camp tough and his burgeoning affection for a local girl (Betty) end in abject disappointment. And the ending, where Mr. Jamerson attempts to “bring it all home” with a climatic, suspense-filled, nail biting conclusion, fails to excite or engage. The final scenes, in which Nick uncovers the identity of a camp thief-a person he’s been seeking to uncover to clear his good name-don’t even rise to the level of middle school suspension of disbelief, much the thrilling  to an adult-level read.

On the plus side, I discovered no sentence clunkers or typographical glitches or major deviations from the English language in this book. But technical competence cannot bring life to a body of words that lacks heart.

In the end, I wish I’d watched the documentary.

2 and 1/2 stars out of 5.

Peace

Mark

 

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah (2011. St. Martin’s. ISBN 978-0312663155. This review is of the Audible version of the novel.)

It’s a long way from Duluth, Minnesota to Williston, North Dakota. So, when my wife Rene’ and I decided to change things up and not “do” Thanksgiving at home but travel to our son’s home in the Bakken, bringing my 89 year old mom with to visit her great granddaughter, I knew the only way we’d survive 10-11 hours (one way) in the Jeep was to have a good audio book ready to go. Having thoroughly enjoyed The Nightingale, a fabulous portrayal of conflict, love, and the French resistance during WW II, when I saw this title, saw that it was by Ms. Hannah, and read a few blurbs, I guessed it’d be a story my wife, my mother, and I would all enjoy. I’m glad I trusted my instincts.

Set in present day Washington State and WW II Leningrad (St. Petersburg), this tale is a complex family saga, historical novel, and contemporary love story (or actually, love stories) chronicling the lives of two sisters, Meredith and Nina as they slowly uncover, while mourning the loss of their father, the truth of their mother’s heritage and the reasons behind her stern, Russian demeanor. While the contemporary sections of the story were, as is always the case with Ms. Hannah’s expert narration, dialogue, and word craft, well paced and cleanly drawn, it is the “story within the story” (actually, at one point, this novel includes a story within a story within a story as well!), Anya Whitson’s (the mother’s) recalling of her survival of the siege of Leningrad by the Germans (for more on the siege see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Leningrad) that is both riveting and heart-wrenching. In the details of Anya’s life during the war, Hannah hits on all cylinders, compelling readers (or in our case, the listeners) to fear and dread and hope as each scene slowly unfolds. In a word, the Leningrad segements are masterful; expositions of fine prose by a writer at the peak of her craft.

My only criticism of the novel is that the ending (no spoiler here) is a bit too convenient, a bit too coincidental for my taste. But the two females on that long ride to and from Williston do not seem to share my concerns in this regard. Perhaps I’m too engaged in my own craft as a writer to allow for suspension of disbelief to the degree Ms. Hannah requires at the end of a very, very satisfying tale. The truth is, even with my slight critique of the book’s conclusion, this novel is a well-written generational tale that both men, who like action and warfare and history, and women, who are more partial to cerebral tales of familial conflict, can enjoy.

4 and 1/2 stars out of 5. A page turner and a marvelous read.

Peace.

Mark

Across the River and into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway (1950. Scribner. ISBN 978-0-684-84464-0)

Mmmm. How to begin? How about with this. After being lured into the crazy world of writing, editing, and publishing by the seductive, dynamic, and brusque style of my authorial mentor; after diving headlong into the pool of words to create seven novels, a collection of short fiction, a biography, and one volume of essays, reading this book-the last novel written by Pappa Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea came out two years later but is a novella)-made me feel like I’d hit my head on the bottom of that linguistic swimming pool. I should have heeded the critics who, when this book was released four years before I was born, panned it as “Hemingway’s worst” (see https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ernest-hemingway/across-the-river-into-the-trees/. But, being this was his last effort to write another Great American Novel, I had to give it a chance. Sadly, I must report those critics-most of whom are long dead (as is the author)-were spot on.

Here’s a story of a fifty-something combat officer, a career army man who’d served in both the Great War and WW II, and who’d spent considerable time during both conflicts in Italy. The Colonel falls in love with a 19 year old Italian girl, Renata (I’m not being pejorative here; the protagonist refers to her as “Daughter”) while on a duck hunting trip to Venice. Or perhaps, he met her somewhat earlier and they are ending their relationship. One can’t really be sure about timelines or much else in this jumble of a late-in-life Lolita story (Hemingway is more cautious with his lust for young things than Nabokov since Renata in this tale is at least older than the age of consent). What’s the problem, you ask?

First off, I’ve written before about sixty or seventy year old white men writing tales of love where the object of the thinly disguised autobiographical protagonist’s affection is a woman twenty or thirty or forty years younger than the male centerpiece. I’ve criticized Jim Harrison, Larry McMurtry, and John Irving for similar flights of fancy. Not because such December-May relationships don’t happen in real life (they do) but because the versions of this age old daydream from testosterone deprived men I’ve come across simply don’t ring true. Other than the classic Lolita I’ve yet to run across a novel that pulls off the December-May thematic alignment with poise and grace. Hemingway doesn’t do it here and additionally, in an apparent nod to Joyce and experimental prose, Hemingway discards punctuation, capitalization, sentences, plot, and any sort of meaningful tension to create interest in either the Colonel or his young mistress as the tale labors towards its predictable conclusion.

In addition, readers of this slender tome experience a fictional version of A Moveable Feast starring two lovers and no one else. There are no interesting supporting actors or actresses adding context or color to the tale. It’s boring, staid, and not at all titillating. Two scenes out of this 170 page disaster of a story convince me that, had he actually cared, Pappa could have pulled it off. The book’s beginning and end feature some fine writing about duck hunting in the tidal marshes of Italy. But if I want great duck hunting stories, I’ll read Sam Cook or Gordon MacQuarrie. Here, the outdoor scenes, while well written and concise, are too little, too late to save the plot or the characters or the author.

Pick up a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls or The Sun Also Rises or Farewell to Arms and regale in Hemingway’s masterful, curt yet precise writing. Don’t waste your time on this outline of an old man’s lustful desires.

2 stars out of 5.

Peace.

Mark

The Circus at the Edge of the Earth by Charles Wilkins (1998. McLelland and Stewart. 978-0771088421)

In this travelogue, memoir, and depiction of a dying art form, my Canadian friend and noted nonfiction writer, Charles “Charlie” Wilkins leaves us with a concise, riveting, and accurate portrait of the Great Wallenda Circus. That alone is worth the price of admission (which, in my case, was quite modest since I bought the book used at Duluth’s great new independent bookstore, Zenith Books). But more than reportage of the locales and route of the Wallenda show as it made its way through NW Ontario and Eastern Manitoba, more than a critique of the individual performances of its component parts, it’s Wilkins’s ability to relate to, embrace, and yet effectively profile the performers, workers, and ultimately, the founder of the troupe-Ricky Wallenda himself, that makes this such a great read.

Wilkins introduces his first such character, the tiger tamer Wilson Barnes, on the very first page. The riveting first chapter, which portrays Barnes’s history and the inner workings of his training regimen, sets the stage (pun intended), detailing the steadfast hard work and dangers inherent in trusting five hundred pound cats to remain compliant even as their native hearts look upon Barnes as not much more than a next meal. But it is the appearance of elephant man Bobby Gibbs, whose larger-than-life persona is contained in a mammoth, obese, extraordinary physical presence who, upon entering the narrative, ends up stealing the show (yes, intended that one too!). In the character of Bobby Gibbs, the author finds his cornerstone to build a vivid, depressing, exhilarating, sad yet happy tale of a vanishing way of life. Wilkins admits to his humanness; he never claims to be an entirely disinterested scribe simply chronicling the demise of an art form. Instead, he allows us to accompany one tour of the Wallenda Circus through his knowledgeable and equitable eyes, all the while providing a historical narrative of both the Wallenda family and the component parts of this less-than-greatest show on earth. He takes on animal rights activism, the Shriners (who sponsor the shows), Canada’s treatment of its First People, and other ancillary yet important topics with an eye to explaining, not condemning; a trait that serves the narrative well and adds spice to the tale. Here’s a sample of the high quality of prose that populates this book:

“(T)his blind guy came out on the floor with his mother at intermission and the mother said to me, ‘My son would like to touch the elephant. Is that all right?’ And I said, ‘Sure, just take him out there.’ And she said, “He doesn’t need me. He can go out on his own.’ And this guy walked right out to where Judy was standing and put out his hand and gently started moving it across the side of her face. She don’t miss much-she knew right away that something was different about him. She just stood there kinda lookin at him outta one eye, and then very cautiously brought her trunk up and over and extended that little finger on her trunk, and brought it down so that it touched him lightly just below the eye. She was saying to him, ‘I understand-it’s your eyes…'”

I waited years to finally get my hands on this book. Having met and been encouraged by Charlie in Thunder Bay when I was just beginning my writerly journey, I’ve read most of his other work, all of it solid and exceedingly memorable. But, mostly out of a sense of nostalgia I suppose (having not attended a circus in a decade or so now that my sons have grown into men) this was the Wilkins book I wanted to read. And I’m damn glad I finally did!

A stellar effort of nonfiction writing.

5 stars out of 5. I’d highly recommend this book to book clubs. It’ll spark hours of conversation and reflection.

Peace.

Mark

My Own Words: Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mary Hartnett, and Wendy W. Williams (2016. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-5011-4524-7)

Someone gifted me this book for Christmas. It sat on my reading shelf, somewhere down in the stack, until Rene’ and I were packing for a trip to Tuscany and Rome. Despite the book’s bulk, I tossed it in my suitcase with relish, thinking, That’s gonna be a great read. I will finally find out something about my legal heroine’s upbringing and life. Well, I, along with whomever bought me the book, misconstrued exactly what this volume entailed. Sadly, expecting a memoir or autobiography of one of most notable liberal Supreme Court Justices still serving telling me her story through childhood remembrances and perhaps, through anecdotes shared by others, this hastily put together mishmash of old school editorials, speeches, and lectures wasn’t anything like what I was expecting. Now, it is true there wasn’t any “bait and switch” here: The cover never proclaims this volume to be a memoir or autobiography (can someone enlighten me as the difference, please?). Instead, the subtitle tells potential readers that the book’s material is “in her own words”, which, because the speeches and other writings quoted are indeed the Justice’s, is not deceptive. But it’s also true that neither the front nor the back cover indicate this tome is simply a collection of Bader Ginsburg’s previous writings. In some ways, the disappointment I experienced reading this collection, given my high expectations for unique, revelatory prose matched my reaction to Pat Conroy’s, A Lowcountry Heart, a similar collection of Mr. Conroy’s prior speeches, eulogies, and blogs that was published after the author’s demise. Here, Justice Ginsburg, being very much alive, missed a chance to tell her story in her own words. That, to me, was a missed opportunity.

3 stars out of 5. An interesting compendium of writings worth reading to understand the Justice’s take on modern American life but not a linear memoir or biography.

Peace.

Mark

From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon (2016. Lake Union Publishing. 978-1-50393932-5)

I didn’t know. Looking for something as a “backup” read for a two week trip to Italy and with two big paperbacks already crammed into my suitcase, I wanted a digital book on my phone that I could read and enjoy during the 9 hour plane rides to and from Europe. I looked on Amazon, found this novel as a “free” read on Prime, and downloaded it onto my iPhone 7 in the Kindle app. All I can say is: “Wow!”

Little did I know that this story of a Jewish woman and a Catholic priest caught in the whirlwind of Italy after the Nazis take control of the country during WW II would serve as a literary tour guide for my first visit to Florence and Rome. Yes, that’s right: without a clue, I’d downloaded a book simply because of the cover art and because it was free and it turned out to be a novel set in the very country, and in the very cities, I was visiting! Weird, huh? Anyway, to cut to the chase, those folks who loved the literary sensibilities and historical accuracy of The Nightingale and, more recently, All the Light We Cannot See, will love, yes that’s right, simply love this story. It’s memorable for all the right reasons and would make for a fine book club read.

5 stars out of 5. I suggested it to my wife for her book club and they picked it up. I’ll let you all know what a group of rural Minnesota women think!

Peace.

Mark

 

Going Coastal: An Anthology of Lake Superior Short Stories (2017. North Star Press. ISBN 978-1-68201-069-3)

I have to be careful here. I’m reviewing a collection of short stories by contemporary writers (some of whom are acquaintances of mine) whose work appears in a collection for which my own short story, Isle Royale, was not selected for inclusion. So I’m hoping this review is objective and not fueled by the sting of rejection. The best way to determine the measure of my fairness? Buy a copy from Zenith Books or The Bookstore at Fitger’s and read it!

As a whole, I was impressed by the quality of the writing. There were a couple of stories here worthy of national attention. My favorites are “The Urge for Going”, a story of a Native American’s journey home that follows the North Shore of Lake Superior. There was something about the tone of the story and the geographic progression of the protagonist’s internal and external trek that struck a chord. The other notable piece, “The Heart Under the Lake”, was much different but every bit as readable and riveting. Most of the other stories were also skillfully crafted. However, “The Lake Effect”, a piece of historical fiction involving the loss of a steamer in 1919 had a number of implausibilities embedded in the plot that made it difficult to swallow, not the least of which was the protagonist, the captain, “darting” across an icy deck from one section of the doomed ship to another during a snow squall. Details make historical fiction believable, allow the reader to suspend his or her disbelief, and “The Lake Effect” simply failed to attain that mark in my view. However, if you read the piece and form a more favorable opinion, so be it.

The remainder of the book includes solid writing, which, coupled with the short duration of the tales, makes the book a great choice for a vacation read. By way of example, “Water Witch” has a refreshing, somewhat mystical theme, one not found in the remainder of the stories in the collection. My one criticism of the collection as a whole is that the breadth and depth and complexities of Lake Superior’s geography and history and people don’t really get the expansive treatment they deserve. Yes, the First Peoples deserve to be showcased. And the North Shore is magical. But what of the Norwegians, the Finns, and all the other ethnic groups that settled around the lake? And where were the stories of the towns, the cities, and industry to be found around the largest freshwater lake in the world? And why no tales set in the UP, another magical, nearly mythical region of the Lake Superior Basin? A good collection that reflects, in a partial way, how it feels to live here.

4 stars out of 5.

 

The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens (2016. 7th street Books. ISBN 978-1-63388-205-8)

The first third of this murder mystery/legal thriller depicted the Twin Cities with such clarity and succinctness that I was ready to give the book a “5 star” rating right off the bat. My ardor for the writing cooled a bit as the plot evolved but, despite the fact that Eskens, in my view, grew a bit less engaging and compelling in his details and depictions as the story arc climaxed, this is s still a fine, fine summer read.

Max Rupert is convinced that defense lawyer Ben Pruitt killed Jennavieve Pruitt, Ben’s wife. Past experience with the lawyer may or may not have caused Rupert to ignore other, more plausible suspects. As is usual in such novels, there are depictions of wealth and privilege and sex and violence, all of which move the story along quite well. As a former prosecuting attorney and now a sitting judge of more than 19 years, I can vouch for the fact that Eskens gets the details mostly right. The one glitch I found, one that should have been edited out early on, is this exchange:

“They’ll hold me over for a bail hearing.”

We’ll get you in and out as fast as possible.”

“And what if the judge denies bail?”

(p. 151)

Fact is, since Pruitt is alleged to have committed murder, a state crime, he’s in Minnesota State District Court on the charge. Minnesota requires bail be set in every case, no exceptions. Even Charlie Manson would be allowed bail in Minnesota; unlike some states where the judge can simply “remand” (keep in jail) a defendant without setting bail. The lay reader won’t likely even see this glitch and, to be fair, it’s about the only error in the procedural depictions in the book that I found.The twist at the end seemed a bit forced to me but I’ll let you discover that on your own and form your own conclusion as to whether it works fully as an ending or not.

The dialogue is crisp and believable. The plotting, quick and lithe, just as you’d expect in this type of yarn. Overall, a well done pot boiler that makes for a good summer hammock read.

4 stars out of 5.

Peace.

Mark

 

Killer of the Flower Moon by David Grann (2017. Doubleday. ISBN 978-038554246)

It seems that J. Edgar Hoover didn’t screw everything up as the perennial director of the FBI. At the height of the murders (by poison, gun, beating, and explosion) of wealthy Osage Indians in the late 1920s, Hoover’s fledgling sleuths, who were not allowed to carry firearms during their normal course of duty but did in this case, were dispatched to do undercover work in Indian County in Oklahoma. What Special Investigator Tom White, a retired Texas Ranger, and his band of federal lawmen uncovered was a shocking betrayal of the Osage: a tribe of Native Americans that had the foresight to retain the mineral rights to their territory even as it was sold from under their collective feet. This forward thinking meant that the Osage, as oil was discovered and released from the Oklahoma landscape, became the 1920s equivalent of some modern day tribes that’ve hit the jackpot (pun intended) with casino gaming.

Betrayal. History. The timeless desecration of the Natives by White intruders. Murder. Mayhem. Destruction. It’s all here in this well wrought rendition of history that, for the most part, reads like a novel. And that, for those of us who like our prose expertly crafted (and not written for fourth graders ala Bill O’Reilly) is a very good thing. The only minor flaw in the book to my way of thinking is Grann’s determination to include all of the information he learned (during his exhaustive research) about the totality of the deaths, including murders never charged against the principals. The author dives into the unsolved cases and their impact on the Osage in the concluding chapters of the tale. I would have simply told the story that’s known, verifiable, and complete and leave the addendum for a magazine article or a blog entry. But this failing is but a minor distraction in an otherwise very fine read.

4 and 1/2 stars out of 5. Non-fiction that sings like Hemingway.

Peace.

Mark

 

 

 

Between Them by Richard Ford (2017. Harper. ISBN 978-0062670342) This review refers to the audio version of the book.

I read about this memoir, really a biography of literary novelist Richard Ford’s parents, on Lit Hub. I’ve never read any Ford. Some of you snootier readers might hold that against me, looking down your noses at a supposed writer because I’ve never read one of America’s iconic literary novelists. Well, life is short. I spent a lot of my youth reading LeGuin, Tolkien, and trashy mass market paperbacks my mom had on the shelf. I’m trying to catch up by making my way through the classics and, here and there, picking up contemporary literary fiction, all the while also reading worthy nonfiction. It’s a tough job folks, but someone’s got to do it. Now, on to Ford.

He’s a fantastically gifted writer. That’s for certain. Richard Ford crafts sentences that flow like oily water over mossy stones. But his effort, to capture the essence of his father and mother, and their impact on him in this fairly short memoir just didn’t captivate me as much as I thought it would. The structure of the book, separating the major character traits and histories of Ford’s parents into their own compartmentalized biographies, while still touching on their loving and sometimes rocky relationship, just seemed too artificial to the reader (or in the case of the version I am reviewing, the listener). In addition, lives of ordinary, everyday people, while perhaps interesting sidelights when their offspring is, as here, a famous writer, if included in a memoir focusing the lens of time on the subject’s parents (a housewife and salesman) seems mundane and boring. This remained true throughout Between Them even when intrafamilial conflict was exposed and pain was expressed.

In short, Ford does a masterful job of portraying his family life as a child, his upbringing, the traits and attributes and deficits of his parents in this succinct read. The problem is, at the end of it all, I just didn’t care. I’m not saying I won’t wander down to one of our two local Indies and seek out a Ford novel. Far from it. He’s a great writer. I just didn’t find the subject matter compelling as a stand alone work.

3 stars out of 5. Readable due to Ford’s great prose but not all that exciting.

Peace.

Mark

The Fall of Moscow Station by Mark Henshaw (2016. Touchstone. ISBN 978-1-5011-0031-4)

Kyra Stryker is not Jack Reacher or Jason Bourne. There. I’ve put that ugly rumor to rest. The protagonist of Henshaw’s spy thriller is an analyst, someone working within the bowels of Langley for the CIA. But she was once a field agent, dodging bullets, outrunning speeding cars, and taking on America’s enemies, primarily the damnable Russians post-Putin. Circumstances, namely the capture of her partner Jon, require her to go back under cover. This was a quick summer read, the kind of page turner that’s easy on the brain and just plain entertaining, with two exceptions.

First, Hemshaw’s character studies, even for a contemporary page turner, leave one wanting. After finishing the book, I knew very little about Stryker, the woman around whom this tale of international espionage is constructed. I know she’s middle aged. A pretty fair runner (she has to be to evade those damnable Russians!) and that she grew up in rural Virginia. That’s about it. We learn so little about Kyra the person, as she dodge’s bullets and delivers blows to the enemy, one wonders, What makes her tick? What gives her the energy and drive to continue against all odds? We never really learn the inner workings of Stryker’s psyche, her loves, her laments, her faith, her thoughts on being a single woman (gay or straight, I couldn’t really tell) and childless as she edges closer to menopause. There’s plenty of rock em’ sock em’ action. Lots of bad guys (mostly those damnable Russians again, though there’s also an American traitor to contend with) but precious little of Kyra’s internal motivation is revealed.

My second criticism is that Henshaw, a somewhat simplistic and limited writer, while adept at constructing action scenes and dialogue, uses acronyms and CIA short hand from time to time without explaining these shortcuts to the reader. Given his lengthy career as a CIA analyst, there’s no question the author has the spy game down cold. And he shares much of it with his readers in a way that we see the bigger picture and understand the conflicts, policies, and inner workings of the NSA and the CIA. And given the present state of affairs between The Orange Headed One, our intelligence agencies, Russia, Putin, and the current investigations (more to come, I am sure!), this story of international intrigue, which includes a detailed look inside Russia’s security agencies as well, there’s no question that this story has a timely feel to it. That’s all to the good. I just wish Henshaw would have played a little less inside baseball and explained some of his passages with more clarity.

All in all, a respectable summer read. It won’t make you forget Bourne but it will make you want to read more about Kyra Stryker.

3 and 1/2 Stars out of 5. Readable and entertaining.

Peace.

Mark

Isadora by Amelia Gray (2017. Audible. com. Audio book. ISBN 978-0374279981)

I picked up this audio version of Ms. Gray’s debut novel because of an excerpt and interview I read about the book on Lit Hub. Knowing nothing about the subject of the story’s focus, Isadora Duncan, a famed dancer from the early 20th century, and loving good literary fiction, I loaded the audio file into my phone and, over the course of several weeks, listened to the novel as I drove to and from work.

Here’s my take on the story arc. The tale starts off with steam: the deaths of Gray’s two young children and their nanny by drowning in Paris. The car they are in, having just left Isadora and her paramour, Paris Singer (yes, from the Singer sewing machine lineage and a wealthy man with a wife and daughters waiting for him back in the States) plunged into the Seine. All inside perished. The loss of the children, Deirdre (with Gordon Craig) and Patrick (with Singer) and the engaging personality of Isadora sets the stage for an intriguing exploration of this thoroughly independent and modern artist. Bisexual, impulsive, crass, and demanding, Gray’s Isadora has all the hallmarks of being the linchpin of an engaging historical novel. And yet…

After the deaths of the children, not much happens. There is no intensity, no drama, no conflict other than the internal discord Gray examines over and over and over again with respect to her muse. Instead of tension and intrigue and excitement, we follow the grief stricken Isadora in her first-person narrative, and three other supporting characters, including Isadora’s long-suffering sister and fellow dance teacher, Elizabeth (in third-person) throughout the year following the tragedy. Additionally, the endless discussions about, and descriptions of, various dance styles and routines and exercises and performances is just plain boring. Replicating dance in prose is difficult; perhaps impossible. Here, repetition of the modern dance theme, a key component of the narrative, becomes tired and pedestrian. The lengthy passages (page after page after page, it seemed!) detailing Isadora and Elizabeth’s artistry caused me to stare out the windshield of my Jeep and study the passing landscape rather than focus my attention on the story being told.

As the title to this review indicates, the writing, while reminiscent of Jane Austin at her best, and the author’s considerable intellect and love for the English language, were unable to overcome the structure of the book and the lack of any real conflict compelling a reader to remain engaged. I came away from listening to the book having little regard for any of the self-centered, spoiled, brats who populate Gray’s fictional landscape. The beginning was extremely promising. The ending? Equally so. The middle. Muddled and without purpose. I found, in the end, I just didn’t give a damn about what happened to Isadora or anyone else in the tale.

This is one of those revered modern literary novels that leaves me wondering whether reviewers actually read the entire book.

2 stars out of 5.

Peace.

Mark

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