Review: The Grownup

This is a short story and it’s an excellent use of first person.

Short Story
Twisted, creepy read!

The Grownup

By Gillian Flynn

©2014

Crown Publishing

Pages: 62

First Person, Past tense

This is a rare instance. A moment where the characters are despicable (pardon my sounding like Daffy Duck) and the opening profession is not something I would care about. Usually, a book like this I would toss aside. But this twisted short story is quite a treat.

It was really hard finding a passage that wouldn’t give much away and that showcased the great use of first person.

From pg. 36

Mostly I came during the day, when the kids were at school and Susan was at work. I did cleanse the house in that I washed it. I lit my sage and sprinkled my sea salt. I boiled my lavender and rosemary, and I wiped down that house, walls and floors, and then I sat in the library and read. Also, I nosed around. I could find a zillion photos of grinning-sunshine jack, a few old ones of pouty Miles, a couple of somber Susan and none of her husband. I felt sorry for Suan. An angry stepson and a husband who was always away, no wonder she let her mind go to dark places. 

And yet. And yet, I felt it too: the house. Not necessarily malevolent, but…mindful. I could feel it studying me, does that make sense? It crowded me.

So here’s the thing. When you first open the book you are met with a character who talks about how great she is giving hand jobs. Those just aren’t my kind of books. I don’t care about romance and sex, I want mystery, suspense, thriller, creepy, demented. 

But this book, people. This book!  It stayed with me. The last three paragraphs were perfect. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that closed so perfectly. I didn’t know how I’d like the book to end, but that was great.

Another tick on the against side for this book, I didn’t like Gone Girl. I’m quite possibly the only person who didn’t like it, but yeah…I didn’t like it. So it takes me a little bit to remind myself that sometimes an author can blow you away even if you think you don’t like them.

LESSON: Don’t judge an author by one book! Ms. Flynn is pretty darn good (yes, I’m late to the party)!

At the end of the year I’m going to recap my favorite books for different points of view and there’s a really high chance this will be number one.

Review Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee

I almost didn’t finish this book, but I’m so happy I stayed with it.

Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee
The cover is the reason I picked up the book.

 Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee

By Mary G. Thompson

©2016

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Pages: 292

Another book without Acknowledgements – I’m not a fan of that.

Genre: YA, Mystery

First Person POV

Present Tense

My first thoughts with the writing were that the author was keeping me at arms’ length.  Here’s a few examples:

From pg. 71:

Jay doesn’t reply just keeps fiddling with the remote. I think that I should go back to my room and wait until Mom calls me for dinner but then Dad comes over and sits between us.

From pg. 81:

We see TV reporters following us with cameras, but they don’t come close. We pretend they’re not there.

From pg. 11:

The kitchen timer dings, and I let my hands fall to my lap, and I watch my mom take the macaroni and cheese out of the oven. She spoons it onto a plate for me and pours ketchup so that it makes a little round pool, and she knocks the salt and pepper shakers together as she sets them on the table. 

I take one bite, and my stomach untwists, and I take another bite and another, and pretty soon I’ve eaten almost the whole dish.

It works, but it’s really close to giving a play-by-play. That’s what  was shoving me away. It frustrated me to the point I almost didn’t finish it. BUT! Here’s what’s weird, at the end I had some feeling for the characters. Now this main character is bottled up and keeping her loved ones at a distance, so maybe that was the idea to make us feel like we were invading her space and then at the end everything becomes clear and suddenly we’re all close.  If that was the plan, I think I would have preferred a little more caring sooner, because I was *thisclose* to giving up.

This is a time I’m thrilled I didn’t give up because the different take was refreshing.

Your thoughts on the writing? Did it feel fine, did it feel too play-by-play, do you feel connected to the character?

NEXT WEEK: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

POV Review Third Person – Before The Fall

Before The Fall

by Noah Hawley

Grand Central Publishing

©2016

390 – pages

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

*No Acknowledgements

*Not sure what to make of no acknowledgements. On the one hand there is the chance that the author was on a very limited deadline and wasn’t able to get them in on time. But when I read a book without acknowledgements it kind of rubs a nerve. Did the author feel they did all the writing, editing, publishing, marketing, etc…, themself? Or is that they feel they’ve said “thanks” enough in their past work (but different book, different reason to say thank you, in my opinion).  So I don’t know. Would love to know what others think when they come across a book without acknowledgements.

POV – Unlimited Third Person (God-like) Narrator. This narrator is the kind that knows what everyone is doing and thinking at any given moment.

Tense – Present

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a character this all-knowing. It feels like the characters are all in a bubble and I’m watching them. But because they are so far from reach I don’t feel much for them.

A few examples of the narration:

Page 18 – In his mind there was no boat. There was no current. There were no sharks. 

What’s interesting about that passage is that it is from a real-life person, Jack LaLanne. So maybe Mr. LaLanne did an interview and said this, but the way it’s written, it’s the narrator knowing everything. I can suspend my belief when it comes to fictional characters, but this little hop into a real-life person without the added “I read in blah, blah, where he said….” It grated at me like the narrator was arrogant enough to believe he knew fictional and real life characters.

Page 194 – Gus sits at the conference table, looking at his reflection in the window. In his mind he is on a Coast Guard Cutter, scanning the waves.

The book follows many different characters, but they are all told from this one narrator’s point of view. 

I liked the story, the ending was different than what I think a lot of people want, but it worked for me. I’m going to give a spoiler so if you don’t want to know skip to the next paragraph now.   Basically, the story is set up that it feels like their was a conspiracy, but in the end it was something completely unrelated. Which, when you think of the lives of rich people with big names, everyone assumes it’s all about them. Fun little twist on this story. 

While it took some getting used to with the narrator, there was one thing that drove me batty. That was nearly every single character had the same trait of not finishing sentences. If you picked up the book and flipped around, you would never know which character is which unless you read their name. That was probably my biggest pet peeve. I’m going to give a few examples:

Pg. 20 – “What? No. That’s – I mean, just a guy.” (Scott’s Dad)

Pg. 43 – “Let’s – I’m gonna say four people max in this room….” (Gus)

Pg. 113 – “No,” she says.  “I don’t think – “ (Eleanor)

Same Pg.  – “And does that money go into the trust,” says Doug, “or -“ (Doug)

Pg. 121 “Can you – ” she says, ” – if its okay, what happened?” (Layla)

Nearly every character has this trait. Every major character and even minor characters. And what’s worse it that it’s not a rare thing, this happens throughout the whole book.

Links:
YouTube Video of Jack LaLanne -at the age of 70 – pulling 70 boats

Wiki Page on Jack LaLanne

POV Review – The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Oh my word, how come I never read this book before now? Everyone says this is such a sad story. If you don’t know any better, it has the requisite ups and bottom of the barrel depths of despair before the main character climbs back up again.  Here’s what makes it sad: The story is (loosely – although parts don’t sound that loose) based on Plath’s life. Plath committed suicide, so when you read it and know that outcome you know the main character didn’t fully make it out of the dark depths. That is where the story is heart-breaking.

The Bell Jar

by Sylvia Plath

Publisher: Harper and Row

©1971

Re-Published by Harper Perennial Modern Classics in 2006

The story is told in the first person present and past tense.

Example of past to present from Pg. 3

          I realized we kept piling up these presents because it was as good as free advertising for the firms involved, but I couldn’t be cynical. I got such a kick out of all those free gifts showering onto us. For a long time afterward I hid them away, but later, when I was all right again, I brought them out, and I still have them around the house. I use the lipsticks now and then, and last week I cut the plastic starfish off the sunglasses case for the baby to play with. 

The above paragraph takes to a moment in her past and then brings it smoothly to the present with “I still have them around the house…”

Example of a line speaking volumes – Pg. 4

          I guess one of my troubles was Doreen.

One sentence and yet, there is so much buried in it, how can you not want to know more?

Example of a very well told first person POV – Pg. 4

          I’d never known a girl like Doreen before. Doreen came from a society girl’s college down South and had bright white hair standing out in a cotton candy fluff round her head and blue eyes like transparent agate marbles, hard and polished and just about indestructible, and a mouth set in a sort of perpetual sneer. I don’t mean a nasty sneer, but an amused, mysterious sneer, as if all the people around her were pretty silly and she could tell some good jokes on them if she wanted to.

Example – a longer version of first person POV (and quite possibly the most amazine three paragraphs that sum up anxiety so well). Pg. 77

         I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.

          From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.

          I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

Yeah, kind of at a loss for words. That is the kind of first person writing I want to do. Put someone in the crook of that fig tree and make them feel like they are there, they are the “I” in the story. They are doing without being told a bunch of “I climbed and sat in the fig tree. I looked up and each fig represented a life that I couldn’t decide whether I wanted or not.”

So summed up, this is the first person writing that makes me swoon. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t have to be literary, it just has to put me there and make me feel like I am the MC. But it has to do so with the finesse of trust that, I, as the reader understand the situation with a play-by-play run down.

This book is totally on my “Must Own List.”

A fun link: The Barbizon Hotel – this is a story on the hotel featured in the beginning of the story and also featured in a part of Ms. Plath’s life.

How do you feel about the first person point of view in this story?

NEXT WEEK: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

POV Review – Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand

Wylding Hall

By Elizabeth Hand

Publisher: Publishing Ltd.

146 pages

©2015

Agent: Martha Millard

Genre: Paranormal, Mystery, Horror, Ghosts

First, I have to say, I’ve forgotten how much I love a good ghost/haunting story. Thank you Ms. Hand for reminding me.

This story is written in first person – multiple narrators. Present tense – the narrators are speaking now of something that happened in the past. I’m not sure how that pertains to tense. What is really nifty about this book is that the author wrote it like a paranormal show interviewing people about a ghost or haunting they experienced. Granted that is what Ms. Hand was going for with the story, but she did it superbly.

Excerpt Pg. 26 – Will

No, I don’t drink anymore. I’ve been sober for thirty-seven years now, longer than you’ve been alive. Back then, I could pack it away. Occupational hazard of the folksinger in those days. Rock and rollers, too. Les, she still does – you can see that on her face. Don’t print that. She has her reasons.

I kind of swoon at how well this is written. Why I love this so much is that it’s like paranormal shows where a person answers a question you don’t hear offscreen, but you know what was asked because the person onscreen uses a complete sentence to answer.

I would love to share more excerpts, but it’s such a short story that I just can’t. The excerpt I included was clearly in the present, but they delve into the past and yet, you still get the feeling you are sitting in a room listening to whichever narrator is up at the moment.

When you have multiple narrators, each speaking in their own chapter it is very clear who is up and who is speaking. However, Ms. Hand takes it a step further and each character is quite different from each other. If I were to pick up the book and not see the chapter, I could still differentiate between the characters. That may seem easy, but it’s really not.

As I think about the tense of stories I’m finding I don’t have a whole lot to analyze. They all seem to be flowing well. I’m getting lucky with my reading picks.

Elizabeth Hand’s Author Website

Chip Crockett’s Christmas Carol – another book by Elizabeth which I have on my to-read list and which I’m sure will require a serious amount of tissues.

Have you read Wylding Hall? What do you think?

NEXT WEEK: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Perfect Girl – POV and Tense

You’ve noticed the small design change, but here’s where I’m going with the content. When I began writing it was hard for me to decide on POV (point of view) and tense. At first it seems simple:

First – I, me

Second – You

Third – Suzy, Bob, He, She

But as I delved further into the subject, it’s much harder than I realized.

There’s third person unlimited omniscience and third person limited and, well, there’s a lot to learn. It’s not so easy. Even the best writer’s get mixed up at times. I have read books that have been limited third person (where the main character can’t know what’s going on outside of her realm), but for a brief moment the author forgets and gives us insight to something the main character couldn’t possibly know.

A good first person account is hard to write and when you come across a story that writes one well, it is amazing.

Tense is an issue as well because even in present tense there is backstory to dredge up and then comes the balance of present and past and it needs to be done well enough that a reader doesn’t get lost in the reading process. Whew!

If you have a  recommendation for a book that does a particular POV or a past/present tense transition well, please let me know.  Leave a comment, email, Tweet, Facebook, whatever works best.  🙂

So from here on out I’m going on a learning process and I’m hoping you’ll join me and feed in your thoughts. I’ll post about a book or short story each week. And I’ll list out POV and tense, plus what I feel works and why. The more I do this, the more in-depth my posts will become. These first ones are going to be sparse, until I learn more.

Also, in case you’re an author looking for comparable books and who may have published, edited, or agented (is that even a word?) a book, I’ll list those as well in an effort to make the process a little easier.

The Perfect Girl

By Gilly Macmillan

Publisher: William Morrow

Copyright: 2016

435 pages

Editor: Emma Beswetherick, Editor in the UK

Editor: Amanda Bergeron in the U.S.

Agent: Nelle Andrew

Suspense/ Thriller/ Mystery

The story is about a young girl who made a mistake and did the time for it. After serving her time, her and her mother begin their “second chance life” with a new man and his son. Unfortunately the happiness isn’t long lasting and her mother winds up dead. The story is told over the course of a day (a 24-hour time period). That’s hard to do, keep a story entertaining over such a small time frame.

The book is told in first person, mulitple points of view from Zoe, Tessa, and Sam for approximately the first ¾ of the book, then we get a fourth person, Richard. He is also in first person POV.

Opening Paragraph:

Opening: ZOE

Before the concert begins, I stand inside the entrance to the church and look down the nave. Shadows lurk in the ceiling vaults even though the light outside hasn’t dimmed yet, and behind me the large wooden doors have been pulled shut.

Usually, I’ll stick to one paragraph, but with multiple characters having their say, I’m going to give the first paragraph of each character so that you get an idea of voice and style as well.

Pg. 11 – SAM

At 8 a.m. Tessa still hasn’t stirred, but I’ve been awake since dawn.

     I’m a criminal lawyer, with a heavy workload. I often work late and usually I sleep heavily until my alarm goes off, but today I have a hospital appointment that’s been burning a hole in the page of my diary for more than a week, and it’s on my mind the minute my eyes open.

Pg. 16 – TESSA

When you don’t have kids of your own, people have a tendency to give you things to look after. I think they assume that you’re lacking in outlets for any nurturing instincts that you might have.

Pg. 261 – RICHARD

Keep Calm and Carry On.

            It’s a slogan you see everywhere these days, it’s even printed on one of the tea towels that’s draped over the radiator in our kitchen. It might have recently become part of popular culture, but that slogan has its roots in wartime strength and self-sufficiency, and today I vow to be its living embodiment, because Maria’s death is a tragedy that has thrown our family into crisis, and somebody needs to keep their head.

This one is pretty simple first person all the way around. It is told in mostly present tense with backstory to fill in for all the characters.

The first person was okay, but could have used a lot less: I did, I opened, I saw, I thought.  To me it feels like being held at arm’s length so I can’t get close enough to the characters to fully care about them.

Personally, I was disappointed that Richard’s character came so late in the book. I don’t believe Sam’s narration was necessary. (Spoiler – if you’d like to avoid this just skip to the next paragraph: Tessa is having an affair with Sam and she’s married to Richard. The only reason Sam is in the book –I think- is to point out what Zoe was like after the accident and provide a little extra sub-plot. I really don’t think his voice or story added anything to the book that the author couldn’t have gotten across to us with one of the other character’s mentioning it.)

This is an instant where the book was good, but could have been great if it was a hundred pages shorter and we didn’t have an extra narrator that really added nothing to the story.

Have you read the book? What did you think of the Sam Narrator?

 

Next Week: Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce