K.D. Girsch has created that elusive holy grail of literary novels: a story that captures in simple but elegant prose the complexity of human emotions and relationships. Her protagonist Ellie suffers devastating losses and struggles to come to terms with what life can possibly mean when, as she says, “Everyone who loves me dies.”
But as excruciating as Ellie’s grief and despair are, they are not the whole story. With painstaking care, the support of a new love, and the wisdom of a compassionate therapist, Ellie begins to heal and rebuild her life. A sliver of hope enlightens her darkness. Beyond denial and distraction, she finds ways of integrating her losses into the new future she is creating for herself.
I do have two minor criticisms, but they may be too idiosyncratic to be entirely valid. Rage is conspicuously absent from Ellie’s panoply of emotions. I would have expected Ellie to be furious at what Camus called “the benign indifference of the universe,” an indifference that could allow such tragedies to occur. Instead, she seems almost too stoic.
My other observation is that the novel does not seem to be as anchored to place as it is to person and time. We know that Ellie’s story happens in the Finger Lakes region of upper New York, New York City, London, and on a Yorkshire farm, but the descriptions of those places are so sparse I felt I had to invent them myself. I may be too cinematically oriented, but at times I felt the characters were acting before a “green screen,” with the environment to be added later by the reader.
That said, I don’t wish to quibble, and I cannot diminish Ms. Girsch’s accomplishment. She has written a lucid, luminous novel, and I give it five enthusiastic, well-earned stars. It is truly excellent—and just short of transcendent. Here’s the link: Coming to Terms
“I even found a realtor here in Broken Pine–a one-street town just past Postage Stamp, on the way to Bakeoven–who, once he figured out I wasn’t lost–at least not geographically–drove me around in his pickup truck and showed me the perfect place.” The perfect place for Kiva is a “classic farmhouse,” a falling-down, mouse-infested relic on the dry side of Oregon. What better place to hide away with the trunkful of cash she’s stolen from her drug-smuggling, soon-to-be-ex-husband Carlton? No one will find her here!
Except everyone does, including her husband, who decides she’s purchased the perfect safe-house for his operations, her estranged daughter, who may want to get even for being abandoned, her “ex-hippie” parents, who aspire to selling Thai sticks to seniors in casinos, and the “gorgeous hunk” who’s just crawled up out of the ravine in her backyard. And maybe the Feds, who are following her and listening in.
I hate to sound like a snake-oil salesman, but as with Morris’s novel Bombed, Of Mice and Money is a cure for what-ails-you. The pages crackle with her understated, self-deprecating humor. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, the story gets funnier as the quirky characters get more entangled in their bizarre goings-on.
If you enjoy the wacky humor of books like Skinny Dip, by Carl Hiaasen, or Lunatics, by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel, you’ll find that Of Mice and Money delivers the goods. I personally feel it’s way, way better than Prozac, but I have to acknowledge, the FDA has not approved of this review. Enjoy!
Outlaws and Worse, Jonathan Eaton’s followup to A Good Man for an Outlaw, is everything we hope for in a sequel and much more. While continuing the story of Deputy Hayes, the pharmacist Fowler, and the outlaw Mathew Mulkey, it weaves a new tale with outrageous characters. It’s a story both droll and dark, told in chapters that deceptively head out into strange and unexpected territory, only to come gliding back to the main narrative like a flock of vultures circling in the Texas sky, awaiting the call to dinner.
Make no mistake–Eaton is serving us another helping of “Western noir,” dark as a cup of black coffee, but sweetened with a cream of Coenesque humor. The characters are deliciously weird, their personal stories, funny and shocking. The novel is well-edited and the writing is crisp and clear. My only quibble is that one minor character in a short chapter speaks in a phonetically-rendered dialect, which I found somewhat difficult. But no harm done. The book remains a solid five stars. I highly recommend it.
I recently read a book of urban fantasy I really liked, Ravensblood by Shawna Reppert. Here’s the review I posted on Amazon and Goodreads:
Ravensblood is the first of a series, the fourth book of which is scheduled for publication in September. Shame on me for only just now catching up with it!
Reminiscent of Prohibition-era Chicago under the lethal thumb of a crazed Al Capone, the city of Portland cowers before the ruthless dark mage William. The three communities–the Mundanes, the Art, and the Craft–are in league against him, but fear they cannot match his strength. Their unlikely ally is Corwyn Ravenscroft–Raven–a man the Art rejected from their Academy. Taken in by William and schooled in the Dark Arts, he is a wanted criminal. But Raven has had a change of heart. Appalled by William’s brutality and bloodshed, he commits himself to destroying the dark mage, even if he forfeits his own life in the process. His only help may be Cassandra Greensdowne, his former apprentice and lover, who is now a Guardian, a member of the special police forces tasked with combating magical crime. And Cass hates all Raven has become.
Author Shawna Reppert has created a multi-layered alternate Portland. You will recognize the streets and the weather, but there the similarity ends. Magic abounds, but it is so entirely believable, the reader soon forgets it’s magic. In fact, the magic is just the context for a superb study of psychology and motivation. Reppert’s characters are so exquisitely drawn and emotionally complex that the reader begins to care deeply about them. We become immersed in their world–fearing what they fear, hoping what they hope, loving what they love. What would have been only another urban fantasy novel in the hands of a lesser writer, Reppert has elevated to the status of literature. She reminds me why I love to read really good fiction.
Click here for a free sample of it: Ravensblood.