Sunday, April 14, 2013

Oops, Mom and Dad, I Lost Her

Somebody in my writing group keeps handing us chapters of her novel about a family broken up by a fatal car accident. The narrator girl and her father struggle through the year after losing Mom and Big Brother. We get a lot of silence-at-breakfast scenes, losing-ourselves-in-competitive-swimming scenes and re-entering-teen-life-with-a-birthday-party-at-the-country-club scenes. (Where, naturally, a hunky boy appears. With an Aussie accent. And he's a swimmer, how handy!)

As she perfects her book, I'm tempted to suggest a look at Francine Prose's Goldengrove. I would mean it as a helpful gesture. I just don't know if it would be taken that way.

Basically, Prose already wrote the same story. Two sisters laze about in a canoe on the lake beside their rustic upstate New York home. The older one jumps out, as if to swim ashore. The younger one rows to the dock. In the house, the parents ask, "Where is your sister?" The answer is not good.

Prose walks us through the next year, as this family struggles up from the depths of loss. The book jacket promises a "risky relationship" between the thirteen-year-old surviving girl and her sister's boyfriend.

Oh, great! I thought, a bunch of unwarranted, highly anatomical sex scenes. And if anyone complains, they are told, 'Teenagers have sex these days. Get over it.'"

But no, Prose keeps it less about sex and more about head-games. It all rang quite true to me. I found this grieving family utterly captivating.

Not so for the next book I picked up. Brunonia Berry's Lace Reader is a tale about moms and aunts who can tell fortunes by looking at -- you guessed it -- lace. The story bolted out of the gate with a whole lotta characters (way quirky, of course)and a whole lotta details about nothin' that I quickly suspected I had fallen prey to an amateur author. When she finally introduced me to the second aunt, who greets the protagonist with a hug and acts quite normal given the family death they have all just experienced, I pictured a quite normal woman who, I found out a page or two later, is brain damaged.

"Foul!" I cried. "Game over."

Seriously, the Amazon reviews made far better reading.

Maybe somebody in Berry's writing group should have handed her an already-published masterpiece about fortune-telling women who come together after a death in the family and . . . oh never mind!

Anyway, to finish up with our Tex-Mex series, you can celebrate warmer weather with:

Tex-Mex Chicken Salad

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