Author: Bette Lee Crosby
Publisher: Bent Pine Publishing (2011)
Number of Pages: 279
How long it took me to read: 4 days
Where I bought this book: I was invited to review the book, which Uncustomary Book Review sent to me.
Like a Moth to a Flame
I looked up the book summary on Amazon. I was intrigued with the story’s premise of an older woman who, after forty years of avoiding marriage and children, finds herself falling in love and having to care for an eleven-year-old boy. Add to the mix, the boy’s parents have been murdered, and he is the only witness (somewhat reminiscent of John Grisham’s The Client). The thriller aspect was appealing, but I was also curious to read how a mature woman, who had never wanted to be tied down with children, is able to develop a relationship with a young boy.
I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:
5. “He watched her from the corner of his eye. ‘New York winters are bitter cold,” he said. ‘I’ve heard tell the temperature drops below zero and the wind can freeze a person’s tongue if they open their mouth long enough to ask for directions. You think any talent scouts are gonna be out in weather like that?’” (p.33)
4. “Olivia wished she didn’t have to say anything, she wished they could go on day after day, week after week, year after year, never asking any more of each other; never mentioning the one thing that ruined every relationship. She found it virtually impossible to look into his eyes with what she had to say, so she fixed her gaze on a single truffle—a truffle that had fallen from the edge of the plate, a truffle that stood as alone as she herself. ‘I’m sorry, Charlie,’ she mumbled tearfully, ‘if I were going to marry anyone, it would be you but I’m simply not a marrying woman.’” (p.17)
3. “Once, years ago, he’d come across the bloody carcass of an animal torn by something bigger and stronger—a lone rat was chewing the last bit of gristle from what had once been a leg. For weeks on end the sight of such a thing haunted his dreams; sometimes the animal appeared as a fox, sometimes a dog, sometimes even a newborn calf skinned to the bone—no matter what form it took, the cry was always the same. It was a sound so pitiful it woke him from his sleep night after night. All that summer he heard it; when the wind blew he heard it, when the night was still he heard it, right now he heard it louder than ever before. Ethan clapped his hands over his ears, then finally let go of the call for his mama.” (p.89)
2. “It was an August afternoon when the sun was a ball of fire that would blister your face if you turned to look at it, but still they’d gone fishing. Tom remembered his mama saying it was too hot for such a thing but nonetheless his daddy loaded him into the truck and headed for Donnigan’s Creek—a place thick with weeping willows and cypress trees, a place so quiet you could hear the chipmunks breathing.” (p.163)
…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…
1. “There would be no New York. No New York, no singing career. For the rest of her life there would be nothing but soy beans and the dry dust of summer. She could picture her heart being torn from its rightful place and shoved into a graveyard of dreams; a place where singers were impaled on the shards of broken records and the sound to be heard was that of sobbing.” (p.57)
Conversation with the Reader
While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:
“Now having read a few chapters, I am finally able to shut my writer’s eye and sink into the story. Maybe grad school ruined me as a writer. One professor assured me, after my umpteenth time of analyzing a story, that someday I’d be able to read critically and for pleasure simultaneously. It hasn’t quite happened yet. I can’t stop myself from taking apart the author’s strategies, questioning his or her choices in telling the story, often asking why that particular point of view, why that verb tense, why that structure, language, style, etc. I’m constantly looking for what I can learn, emulate or use.
“So far, I like the beginning of the novel. There’s a wonderful efficiency in revealing history and ground situation, all the while, providing Olivia’s characterization through action. Crosby deftly brings out Southern culture through the narrative voice and her use of language and imagery. Her use of separate, one-page sections, written in first person point of view from different characters, works quite well not just to convey characterization but to push the story forward. Also, as a short fiction writer, I especially appreciate how each chapter, so far, feels complete, similar to how a short story unfolds and ends.
“I’m having an unexpected reaction when the narrative’s perspective changes to that of an eleven-year-old boy. The voice, the diction and tone are completely believable. In other words, the young character feels authentic, which is no easy feat for an adult writer. Writing from a child’s viewpoint can be tricky, because as a writer, you have two goals here: one is to make the character believable as a child, who may not comprehend the world like an adult does, and the other is to be able to convey adult concepts without compromising the child’s logic or innocence. Cosby does this well, and I am able to finally turn off my writer’s mind and fall into that wonderful ‘reader’s dream.’ I read for pleasure. That is because the boy, Ethan Allen, feels real. Honest and vulnerable.”
“I just hit the Christian message in this book. It took me immediately out of the story. In addition, I’m having problems sympathizing with Olivia’s character. I am really trying hard to like her, especially because she was so independent, confident and strong in the beginning, but while I understand that she is going through loss, she now seems so passive, whiny and helpless. I should like her, shouldn’t I? I mean, she is so much closer to my age than Ethan Allen. But it is the eleven-year-old character who, through his direct actions, moves the story forward. He is flawed, cynical and scared, yet he’ll jump in a car, despite not knowing how to drive, so he can get to safety. With Olivia, it takes an outside force, rather than a trait or strength she draws from herself, to compel her to take action. And now, I am so utterly turned off by the whole religious message that I am struggling not to skip this section, which is unfortunate, because this is when the story could have become so much more interesting.”
“I love being in Ethan Allen’s point of view, except I just hit another section with the author’s ‘God is the answer’ message. It took me completely out of the story again. I wish I’d known this was a religious book before I agreed to review it. I would have passed. There is nothing wrong with this type of writing, but there is a specific audience for such stories, and those readers, I’m sure, would enjoy this novel. Unfortunately, I don’t fit the bill. Such stories, to me, are more like parables. I’m not terribly interested in religious-oriented stories, nor am I interested in sermons disguised as stories or stories with religious messages. I am interested in fiction that is driven by characters and not by dogma. Now, every time I pick up this book to read, I have to mentally prepare myself, consigning myself to reading a book with a Christian agenda. What a shame, because without all the religious messages Crosby inserts into the narrative, which range from nominally subtle (like Ethan attempting a prayer) to achingly obvious (such as Olivia’s arc of changing from being OCD with her superstitions to trusting God’s inexplicable way of sorting life out), this would be an otherwise enjoyable reading experience.”
“I have plowed, rather determinedly, through the rest of this novel. At the risk of sounding like some atheist cynic (which I’m not – I’m a complete sap for those Hallmark and Lifetime movies), I found the uplifting parts, such as when everyone in the apartment building comes together to help Olivia and Ethan, very annoying and unbelievable. Toward the end of the book, I was rolling my eyes. The Christian message—I think I’ve said enough about this, but I’ll add one last point—creates a problem in the novel, in that because of this ‘agenda,’ the author’s hand is too readily felt by the reader, and it creates an overwhelming sense of deus ex machina. I could have forgiven all of this had Crosby not only made the Christian message more subdued, but taken out her last chapter. The novel actually has two endings. I won’t spoil the (unnecessary) twist for you, but if you are about to read this book, do yourself a favor and skip the last chapter. The second-to-last chapter makes for a much more surprising and more elegant way for the novel to end.”