March 05, 2005

Book Review: A False Sense of Well Being

Posted by Hello

From the Publisher:

In this amiable expose of a genteel enclave of the Deep South, where marriages disintegrate into strained truces, 38-year-old Jessie Maddox finds herself imagining all the ways her faultlessly upright but mind-numbingly boring banker husband, Turner, might plausibly die. A fall in the shower? A freak explosion in the basement? Anything would do. In lieu of murderous action, Jessie seeks the same false sense of well-being she prescribes to her psychiatric patients at the Glenville Wellness Center, like Wanda McNabb, a homemaker who actually has killed her husband.

Then Jessie's best friend in Glenville Meadows, a suburban subdivision full of "Southern Living wives," confesses that she is involved in a steamy affair, and Jessie finds herself desperate for any change at all. In an effort to recapture her youth, she journeys to her hometown in Randolph Gap, Ala., where her mother a maker of macram‚ handbags and a fervent evangelical churchgoer still keeps house for her long-suffering father, and her wild sister, Ellen, is visiting with her son, Justin, and a full menagerie of birds. By contrast, dull Turner starts looking better. Finally, the gritty realities of smalltown limitations and universal disappointments steer the story away from a Thelma and Louise finale toward a more realistic but no less dramatic and ironic ending.

This book gives me hope.

First, it's from a first-time author and it received rave reviews.

Second, it's written in first person, present tense.

When I was in college, that was a no-no. Which was really frustrating because I tend to write in present tense. I've always had a problem with tenses, volleying back and forth between past and present. I still have to go back and change my stories from present to past. It's frustrating.

So it was really refreshing to see someone writing successfully in the present tense. I like the present tense because it makes it seem like you're sitting on the character's shoulder, like an obedient parrot, observing their life as it happens. The story unfolds right before your eyes.

It's funny, but when I took those creative writing classes, I felt totally stupid and hopeless as a writer. Everything I did was scrutinized and ridiculed - picked apart like a fatty piece of meat. But now that I've graduated and have had time to read other work, it's encouraging to see that pretty much any style is accepted, and more importantly, published, nowadays

Just another reminder that I shouldn't write to please people, but stick to the story I feel compelled to share.

However, that said, I've never had much luck writing in first person. It feels awkward to me and I don't like the fact that experiences are limited to one person. After all, if you write in first person then you can't very well know what the people around you are thinking. I have to stick with my character's thoughts and the physical activities around that character.

I don't like restrictions. That's why I like to write third person, or even multiple view points (which I'm pleased to see seems to be catching on more and more). I feel writing a story with multiple viewpoints gives the story texture, like oreo cookies on vanilla ice cream.

The story itself was character-driven. This means, for those out there not really familiar with writing techniques, that not a lot happens, per se. Character-driven stories are about the character and their growth. Though this book was interesting, it was slow moving and the ending wasn't all that satisfying; the character pretty much stays the same. But the writer did a good job keeping my interest because of the character's unique problem - she dreamt of ways to kill her husband.

What did I learn? That first person, present tense IS out there and IS getting published. That's encouraging.

Moral: Having bad thoughts doesn't necessarily make you a bad person.

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