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When there’s more to the Novel than a Story
I know a Good Story / May 14, 2015

Not every novel is a classic.  Visit any English class and you’ll hear that a lot of novels are pulp or, as Capote said, “That’s not writing; That’s typing.”  I won’t argue that point (my mom didn’t raise anyone that foolish) but I think some “popular” novels get less respect than they deserve.   These books, whose primary purpose is entertainment, often have insights into the human condition.  To ignore the good in these stories is to turn a blind eye to real gold.Dick Francis’s 24th novel is called Proof but it could have used one of his later titles, Come to Grief.  Here, Tony Beach is trying to live a reasonable life under the weight of a double burden.  His wife passed away six months before and he’s still mourning her death.   The second is the shadow of a family legacy: Tony’s father and grandfather were famous as brave men and riders but Tony fears the damage that comes from falling off a horse.  So he sells wine and spirits for a living, watches other people ride horses and remains convinced he’s the family coward.  It’s Tony’s connections to the horse world that have him catering drinks at a party where…

The only constant in life is change
I know a Good Story / May 10, 2015

They don’t teach us that when we’re kids. When we’re little, the routine is a big part of our existence and we rely on it as much as we chafe at its boundaries: on weekdays we wake up and get dressed for school, following a specific route from home to class and back; we meet who we’re supposed to meet when we meet them and homework is done on the dot.  We have a prescribed dinner time, family time and bedtime and our birthdays arrive on schedule every year.  During adolescence we fight to tear up the schedule and we become adults when we realize how our parents fought to keep the reality of change from impinging on our routine.  Adults know the only constant in life is change and to survive they must learn to adapt.  Sometimes in the process they make mistakes but that’s a part of learning to adapt. This is the undercurrent of Elisabeth Egan’s debut novel, A Window Opens, and her heroine, Alice Pearse, starts the story understanding the need.  As a veteran of the sandwich generation she’s a mom to her children and a daughter of parents who all need her at the same…

The Gift

Sometimes you just get lucky. I believe that. About six months ago I started this  column, writing about books I’d come to love dearly and early on, I praised Shirley Jackson, a writer that almost seemed forgotten.  My mother had loved her work and introduced me to it at an early age.  That was lucky because, in those days, Jackson’s work (with the exception of one story) wasn’t reprinted.  At that time, Jackson wasn’t often remembered in literary circles and when she was the discussions were limited to her supernatural or psychologically disturbing tales.   The author also wrote a lot of well-crafted stories about family life but these were given less weight because a)they were funny or b) they were “chick lit.”   Of all of her works, these looked like they had the least chance of getting back into print. Except, now they are. Ms. Jackson’s books about life with one husband, one sheep dog, four children, 10,000 books and innumerable cats are back in print.  Life Among the Savages follows two parents and their two young children from a New York City apartment to an old Vermont house with Pillars in the Front and ends with the arrival of…

The trials of fathers and daughters
I know a Good Story / May 3, 2015

Okay, I know it’s close to Mother’s Day but there’s something about Fathers and Daughters.  God knows, I adored mine.  He was funny, smart and bullheaded, just the kind of man to indulge a mischievous daughter who didn’t want to obey her mom.  Yes sir, I think my father was brilliant but a lot of girls feel that way about their dads..  Adela Rogers St. Johns certainly did and she captured that father-daughter spark in her biography, Final Verdict.  Of course, when she said her Old Man was brilliant the rest of the world agreed.  Earl Rogers may still be the greatest trial attorney that ever entered a courtroom. It’s funny but no one remembers Earl Rogers these days.  Mention Johnny Cochran or F. Lee Bailey or Gerry Spence and legal heads will nod.  Talk about Bill Kunstler or Clarence Darrow and some history mavens will admit they had skill but they point out these guys lost as many cases as they won.   Talk about the man who Perry Mason was based on and you’ll hear “Perry who??”  Well, such is the nature of fame.  Still, in the first half of the twentieth century, if you were charged with murder…

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