Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Twin Reviews: THE GLARING ABSENCE
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
NOT QUITE A HUSBAND
1. Colleagues vie with one another for a single partnership position in their law firm.
2. Estranged spouses making their way from India to England are caught in the midst of a bloody uprising.
1. Very nice. Playful, colorful, the protagonists shown a equals and clothing giving the sense the story will involve the workplace. Alliterative title does the same. Well done.
2. Meh. Seen this type of thing countless times before. The title works, though.
1. Apprentice Writer came into this story with high expectations after enjoying the author's debut effort a lot. She was not disappointed. The story of how the perfectly matched protagonists (who, of course, see each other as perfectly matched antagonists) play a game of legal tennis with ever rising stakes that was very entertaining. The reader has no doubt how the story will end - it's the way it gets there that captures one's interest.
2. This author has a gift of creating unusual characters who are drawn to each other precisely because they stand out from their peers, but who are kept apart for large and convincing reasons. No misunderstanding an eavesdropped conversation between the second under-butler and the disgraced scullery maid who is really a duchess spy, no attempt to sacrifice one's own happiness because one is not Good Enough to be the partner of the eighth-in-line-around-three-corners heir of Bottomsup-Hippowich-Lowerrubberboot. The issues the protagonists have are squarely with one another, and resolving the problems in an authentic way, for the story and for the contemporary reader temporarily sent back through time, is an art at which this author excells. The reader suffers emotionally along with the characters in the most wrenching and enjoyable way.
At a talk AW was fortunate enough to attend, 'Desperate Duchesses' author Eloisa James spoke about her fascination with what happens after the wedding, and writing about marriages in trouble. AW agrees. Vast quantities of novels follow the couple on the way to the wedding, and end the story when vows are spoken. Those kinds of stories can certainly be entertaining and fulfilling, but so can stories about how the couple goes about keeping the love alive year after year, or fighting their way back to it after it has suffered a devastating blow. This seems to be developing into a theme for Ms. Thomas. None of the three couples in her published work to date stayed together after first getting together. It is a topic on which she writes tremendously well.
And here we arrive at the reason for this post's title.
WARNING! MODERATELY SPOILERIFIC!
The Gentle Reader will have gathered that Apprentice Writer is a huge fan of both these authors. Here's the "but":
When you love, love, love an author, it hurts much more to find a flaw than would be the case with an author you merely like.
There is an early scene in PMP where the hero tries to gain an advantage by excluding the heroine from a meeting with a star client. He does this by holding the meeting at a golf course which bars female members. AW thought this foreshadowed a later plot development where the hero and heroine would join forces to take legal action against the misogynistic dinosaur.
What kind of a 21st century hero belongs to a gender-exclusive golf club? What kind of 21st century heroine - specializing in gender discrimination cases, no less - doesn't have a problem with this? For that matter, how did the senior partners at the law firm, who make their money on reputation for handling gender discrimination cases, not have a problem with this?
The disconnect between the hero's action and facing no consequences colors the way AW looks back on the whole story.
In NQAH, hero and heroine are enroute from a remote location in the Indian highlands as the attention of local people grows increasingly hostile, until the point they are forced on a panicked horseback dash through a gathering army to make it inside the gates of a British fortress. They then spend the next few days in fear for their lives, the wounded hero acting as sharpshooter while the surgeon heroine patches patients up round the clock. As regular readers of this space know, AW is sensitive about various pitfalls related to India as a setting; while there is no significant individual character of Indian descent in the story, thankfully, the protagonists don't act or speak in a patronizing way towards the local people, and the heroine makes no class- or ethnic- distinctions in the manner or promptness with which she treats her patients. So that was all good. Here's the 'but':
Neither during the long siege, nor after, does either character spend even a moment thinking about the motivation for the attack and whether it was justified.
AW is not asking for a complete analysis of all the economic, political, social, and cultural antecedents. She also recalls the hero pointing out to his politician brother that he himself is not cut out for politicking. Fine. But, come on - not even the tiniest little observation or question? "There are hundreds of people outside these walls dedicated to ending my life to prove their unhappiness. I wonder what made them so angry, and if I would be as passionate in their place?"
But nothing, neither from him nor the heroine, who are both supposed to be extraordinarily intelligent, educated, thoughtful people. It reached the point, when the heroine resolves to be less of an emotional automaton, to engage more and be interested in others, that AW found herself talking to the character (never a good sign), as in "You missed the boat, baby! Had the most perfect opportunity, and walked right by!"
Perhaps the Gentle Reader thinks this concern is exaggerated. Try this: separate the word 'Indian' from 'Highlands' and insert 'Scottish' instead. Can anyone imagine a novel with Scottish protagonists and British army forces in which the Scottish quest for independence and freedom isn't depicted as tragic, noble, justified? In which these sentiments aren't even mentioned? Could a novel be set in Revolutionary America with opposing British forces where the sentiments of the subjugated people aren't mentioned? AW doesn't think so.
END SPOILER WARNING
Will AW continue to read books from these authors?
Of course. It's Julie James and Sherry Thomas. Who not only possess compelling novel voices, but great blog voices as well. See Ms. Thomas' thoughtful piece on the state of the publishing industry here, further to AW's earlier posts on Drama, Freshly Squeezed.
But does it make you laugh?
1. Yes! The reader can rely on this author for laughs.
2. Question needs to be rephrased as: But does it keep you entertained?
Yes! Apprentice Writer usually reads half a dozen books at a time. She abandoned all others without a second thought when she began NQAH, and powered through till the end, transported by this author's reliably gorgeous prose and bullseye skill at touching the heart.
Learn more about Julie James and her upcoming title 'Something About You' here.
Learn more about Sherry Thomas and her upcoming title 'His At Night' here.
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