Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch: A Review

Don’t let the size and weight of Donna Tartt’s 771 page novel, The Goldfinch, put you off.  My first reaction was “Oh Lord, how will I ever hold this, much less read it?” until I discovered that this novel does not need to be pried open page by page, but actually falls open to whatever page you might be reading. Unless you are a discus thrower, however, don’t try to hold and read this book, prop it up on something sturdy and let unravel itself.

That said, the book’s explosive opening – the terrorist bombing of a New York City museum—sucked me into the story. Carel Fabritius’ masterpiece, The Goldfinch, survives the blast (as it did in 1654 when a gunpowder factory next to the artist’s studio, exploded, killing the artist.  Also surviving is a thirteen year old boy, Theo, whose mother dies in the explosion. Theo awakens from the concussive power of the bombing buried in debris along with an old man who points to the dust-covered painting and pleads with Theo to save it. Before dying, he gives Theo a ring and babbles a name and tells him to ring the green bell. What begins as a surreal journey from devastation and loss, gathers momentum as Tartt thrusts us into future, pursuing Toby and the painting through years of suspense, terror and heartache.

While I'd have liked to read The Goldfinch straight through, it’s size demanded I stop more often than I wished. Tartt's eclectic cast of characters leap from page to life: Hobie, the gentle restorer of antique furniture under whose tutelage Toby learns the trade; Toby’s brilliant but gambling addicted father who drags him to Las Vegas where Toby befriends Boris--a Russian teen whose presence throughout much of the book drove me nuts with his unbridled euphoric, eccentric, and peripatetic personality. And then there’s the painting, both treasure and tyrant that drives the story to its violent yet satisfying conclusion.

The book was at least 100 pages too long and I had more than my fill of drug and alcohol abuse running rampant throughout the book  -- from Las Vegas onward. Would I read it again? Perhaps? It’s an amazing, complex, plausible, and gripping and wondrously written hulk of a novel. I wonder if you feel the same way.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Reflectiveness of a quiet lake

“When the pond mirrors the sky, Its soft blue sheen flawless, The pond will reveal its hidden life, A sign for you to dip your hand.”  --
Vic Klimosky, former director of the Benedictine Center at St. Paul’s Monastery, St. Paul, MN

The other day, while gazing out at Lake Superior, waiting for some sign of spring to arrive, I noticed a small flock of golden-eye ducks seemingly floating – one upon another—on the lake. It was reflection of course, but one rarely seen on our perpetually turbulent lake. Only the day before, the lake had been turgid with the runoff from wild rivers racing downhill, filled with snowmelt, mud, and debris. But that day, the lake was blue. The waters totally silent. The silt settled to the bottom, allowing the lake to reflect the immense sky above and the small creatures cruising upon it. Even more amazing was the clarity of the lake's waters. Each rock on the lake bottom next to our shoreline was revealed in all its amazing beauty and color. They were visible for a good 300 feet from the shoreline -- a phenomenon that I'd never witness before.  A perfect metaphor for the messiness of our lives, which … given room to quiet … can assume the same clarity reflective and reflective qualities.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Black wolves and jolly hungry otters

Beryl, are those ducks?” Bill asked. I followed his finger to where a wide v-shaped wake speeded toward our shoreline. Binoculars revealed, what we’d never before witnessed in our 15 years in this house: two  otters racing toward shore. We watched in delight as they clambered, in their wonderfully playful way,  up the rocks. Their heads would bob into view and then disappear, as if they were having difficulty mounting the rock. “Oh, please,” I thought , “don’t take off for some more easily climbed rock.” They didn't leave but finally managed to breach the rocks, dragging with them a very large fish, which they then – very  un-playfully—proceeded to devour. It didn't take long, then off they went, their V-shaped wake pointing away from our rocks, until they disappeared into the deep blue of the Lake’s body.
Bill was also the one to sight a large wolf loping toward him up our driveway as he drove down towards the house. While I've been seeing wolf scat and bear scat on our driveway, I've not spotted one in the process of leaving its mark. For that matter, I've never seen a wolf on our property, period, though others have. My son and his wife spotted a large black wolf near our unattached garage, and a neighbor spotted the “Biggest black wolf” he’d ever seen heading down our driveway. So, where was I when all these things were happening?  Obviously, in the wrong place. I did see a black bear cross our driveway in a heavy morning mist but that time Bill was with me. Perhaps I need to hang closer to him both in and out–of-doors.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Wonders on returning home

It hardly seems possible that, with the Summer equinox only days away, it should still be so chilly. Bill and I arrived home, having spent four months in Florida, to find we needed to fetch our long underwear from the cedar chest. From early May till now, June 13, we've had a log fire at night warming the house. The cold however, did not stop our beloved denizens of the shoreline … the eagles, the deer, goldfinches, sparrows, chickadees and the tiny hummingbirds (which arrived a week late -- from making their welcome appearances.

As I've been so remiss in blogging, I thought I’d hop back into the blogging world to share some of the wonders we've encountered on Lake Superior since our return. Florida was lovely and warm but my writing genie preferred the cold and the lake to the warmth and a pool.

On our first day home, a mother eagle settled onto our ledge rock to teach her two children to fish – or at least that’s what I think she was doing as both juveniles had a freshly caught something on which to dine. I think it was the same mother eagle sitting atop a dead birch with her two juveniles close by as I wended my way up our long driveway the following day. One sibling lifted off and made a huge sweeping circle through our woods, then headed back to the same tree where it’s mother waited.  By the time I fetched my camera (actually my telephone as I don’t have a digital camera), I returned to find both juveniles gone, the mother alone remaining. Perhaps that was the day she’d sent them packing. They knew how to fly and, presumably, to hunt.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Aaron Lazar's Next Big Thing

Update: March 19, 2013. Aaron Lazar's Next Big Thing
Aaron Lazar is one of the most prolific authors I know, which is why I'm so pleased to feature Aaron’s Next Big Thing Interview . I met Aaron on, a wonderful and diverse online community of writers, six or seven years ago. Since then I have watched in amazement as Aaron delivers one intriguing, suspense-laden yet heart-warming mystery after another. Sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? You'll have to read Aaron's work to discover what I mean. 

The LeGarde Mysteries Series, Moore Mysteries Series, and Tall Pine Series -- each featuring different protagonists -- propel readers through the Genesee Valley, Adirondack Mountains, and even Paris, the city of lights. His latest book, For Keeps, features family doctor Sam Moore who wants nothing more than a quiet life with his wife yet is drawn constantly into one mystery after another. Please do check out Aaron’s Next Big Thing Blog and his Author’s Website .

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

John Caruso's Next Big Thing

Update: March 18, 2013. John Caruso's Next Big Thing Interview

What joy it gives me to feature writers whose work I admire as I promised last week, Do visit John Caruso's blog, and his Next Big Thing interview.

I tagged John for this blog-hopping as he is a brilliant writer and I'd like him to receive the exposure he so well deserves. John recently published his second book, Hard Magic, which I've just begun reading and find myself totally, inexorably engrossed in the magical, mysterious world he so vividly portrays. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Francesca on her final hike with me
Do you find the term “tagging” confusing? I do. Most often you've probably been “tagged” in a photo or a post, yet you fail to find yourself either in the photo or in the post. Thanks to my dear friend Christin Lore Weber, I've now experienced a form of “tagging” that does make sense. It’s called The Next Big Thing in which writers “lift up their Next Big Thing for the entire world to see . . . most often right in the midst of writing it.” So, thanks to Christin for tagging me. Please check out Christin’s Next Big Thing . Christin is a brilliant blogger and scintillating author whose work you will not to miss. 

In the next couple of days, I’ll post links to the Next Big Thing bloggers I've “tagged,” for this project.

What is your working title of your book? 
The title, besides the cover, is often the writer’s most important tool for drawing the interest of the reader. My current project has born several titles. The most recent comes from the creative mind of the woman who bestowed the title -- The Scent of God -- on my first book. She drew the title The Glass Chrysalis from a chapter in my current work which refers to Butterflies and the emergence of their offspring.

Where did the idea for the book come from? 
After my memoir The Scent of God was released, I was inundated with queries asking why I had stopped the book when I did. They asked for a sequel. Even more pressing was my desire to tell the story which burns in my heart and demands release. I've been working on the sequel ever since. “When can we buy it?” readers constantly ask. I have no answer. I’m still working on it.

What genre does your book fall under?
I don’t believe there is a defined genre for this work. I would call it a literary memoir in fictional form – in other words, a true story told as fiction. I assumed this format recently because I felt trapped within my own voice and vision. I needed to step outside myself in order to find the truth beneath the story. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 
This is the story of a mother’s search to understand and forgive the choices she made that might have contributed to her daughter’s violent death; a mother’s effort to free her child as she could not do during life.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
While my first book received national acclaim, it did not become the best-seller the publisher expected and has still not earned back the substantial advance royalty it was awarded. The current publishing environment is a difficult one for new and mid-level authors. As a result, many have turned to self-publishing as a friendlier and more financially lucrative option. I might eventually choose this route, though I will probably run this work by my agent first. 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I've been through so many drafts that I've lost count. As I only decided to take the book into fictional format within the past month, you could say I've just begun the first draft. This draft, however, feels more rewarding and exciting, so I think I’m on the right track.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Lost Years: Surviving a Mother and Daughter’s Worst Nightmare by Kristina Wandzilak and Constance Curry
Come Back: A Mother and Daughter's Journey Through Hell and Back by Claire and Mia Fontaine. 
The Lost Child: A Mother’s Story by Julie Meyerson. 
My Daughter’s Addiction: A Thief in the Family – Hardwired for Heroinby Marie Minnich. 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I actually began writing this book many years ago in daily journals which became my most trusted confidants during the years of anguish and fear that followed my first husband’s death (where The Scent of God ended) and that leads to my daughter’s death and its aftermath.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
Those who read The Scent of God will be the first to seize on this book. Parents of children suffering from depression and mental torment and those whose children are addicted to alcohol and drugs will find their stories in this work. The damage inflicted by those who disguise abuse as love, and the anguish and confusion that result from the sudden violent death of a child or loved one, add other engrossing dimensions to pique interest. It will conclude with the letters I wrote to my daughter after her death.

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