Thursday, February 19, 2009

Laughter Reviews #23

Kristan Higgins


Tall, athletic journalist moves back to small hometown and deals with large family and unrequited love.

What Works
The author has developed a
trademark of creating appealing 'everywoman' heroines who triumph over the types of problems a regular reader might encouter. Chastity is no exception. It is very easy to like her as she negotiates the benefits and disadvantages of being built like an Amazon, the only sister to five brothers who are not only older but perform heroics for a living as firefighters and paramedics, and saddled with a name like 'Chastity Virginia'. Years of suppressing the feelings she has for a foster brother who now works with her father and siblings seem to have helped her see beyond the surface emotions of others, leading her to express understanding of people in emotional crisis even after those people have behaved poorly towards her. Deeply devoted to all members of her extended family, she struggles to remain unjudgmental and supportive as couples at different stages of life ask the question of whether love is enough to keep them together. It is a question worth asking, and given different answers in different cases

What Doesn't
There are a few spots where for the sake of comic or emotional effect, statements or reactions seemed speeded up/simplified beyond realism, such as a suggestion made within the first moments of meeting on a market singles night, and highly common-sensical suggestion given to a person experiencing a longterm problem that suddenly causes a turn-around. After the initial "What?" reaction, though, Apprentice Writer was willing to suspend disbelief because the scenes did turn out to be funny, and also since her IRL experience in work and volunteer positions proved more than once that advice and a person's state of readiness to hear it have to coincide. Until that person is 'able' to hear the advice, it can be offered countless times without result.

In the
'Only a Writer Would Care About Things Like That' department, there were two spots that made AW stop reading to try and figure out the hidden meaning of it all. Part of the storyteller's task is to find different ways to develop an underlying theme showing growth of the characters, often done with symbols that keep popping up. In this story, Chastity suffers from a blood phobia which goes far beyond garden-variety squeamishness, with near-fainting at the sight of blood an embarrassing reality. Yet there is repeated reference to her dog dripping so much blood when in heat that she needs to wear men's underwear - without any negative effect on Chastity. Apart from the whole TMI aspect of canine menstruation (if AW had any doubts that she is more of a cat person, this cleared it right up) - what was this supposed to signify? That Chastity can handle regular biological facts of life, just freaked out by serious accidents? That may be a legitimate issue for readers who wonder if she had a preventative hysterectomy at adolescene, but the whole train of thought took this reader way out of the story. Then again, maybe no-one else noticed.

The second instance was again attached to canines. Dogs, on the covers and in the stories, have become this author's signature. More than one appears in this story, and the heroine's own pet was chosen specifically because she is so ugly as to be loveable. So, in a body of work stongly focused on dogs and female ones in particular- of all possibly terms, why would 'bitch' be used as an insult? Wouldn't that be ineffective or even a compliment among such extreme doglovers? AW couldn't figure it out.

This was AW's introduction to this author, and she is delighted to have found her. Glomming streak, ahoy! The author blogs at 'Sisterhood of the Jaunty Quills' (which should win a prize for fab name) as well as her own site, where she holds contests for fun things like including the best reader-supplied 'worst date story' in an upcoming book. AW will be searching out her just-released title, "
Too Good to be True", ASAP.

But does it make you laugh? YES
Magical creatures, life-or-death stakes, vast fortunes, the apocalypse, the distant past, the distant future - all these things have their legitimate place on the entertainment scale. But sometimes, it is nice to be reminded that an absorbing, satisfying story can be created from ingredients in your own neighborhood. 'Just One of the Guys' is a feel-good, funny tale that proves that 'contemporary' is not a bad place to be.


Thomma Lyn said...

Sounds like a great story, and I enjoyed reading your review. I like how you describe what works for you and what doesn't work.

M. said...

Glad you liked it, TL. What genres do you usually read?