As a Zoroastrian myself, I was curious to see how my community is portrayed in this book. I found a generous but unflinching honesty in the depictionAs a Zoroastrian myself, I was curious to see how my community is portrayed in this book. I found a generous but unflinching honesty in the depiction of the times, the injustice to women sanctioned by law, and the attitudes of each segment of society.
Widows is meticulously researched, chock full of details, the nuances of language, the oddities of communal preferences, the relationships between members of the police force, the British families and Indians of different classes and religions all co-existing with an understanding of each other. Even more fascinating is how Massey portrays the boundaries between relationships—the three wives of a wealthy Muslim man, why he married each of them, the drive for a male heir, the trust and mistrust between members of the same household.
In parallel with the murder mystery, Massey weaves the intriguing personal narrative of the lawyer herself—Perveen Mistry, explaining her pervasive need to protect and defend the women who lived in seclusion, which itself holds some shocking revelations. The mystery kept me guessing, as Perveen uncovers reasons why each party has a motive for murder. Her treatment of the widows rightly stresses their self-imposed helplessness, but she does not treat them as weak creatures, but rather complex beings with deep felt emotions.
Needless to say, I bought the second book The Satapur Moonstone as soon as it was released! ...more
Donald Maas’s “Writing the Breakout Novel” was filled with useful information. I treated his ideas as writing exercises – to paraphrase, “write a scenDonald Maas’s “Writing the Breakout Novel” was filled with useful information. I treated his ideas as writing exercises – to paraphrase, “write a scene, and then list the MC’s motivations. At the bottom, add their more lofty goals. Now rewrite the scene with these higher values motivating the character. Examine the difference.” As promised, it did make the scene ‘pop’.
Following his advice in most part, I re-examined my story premise, adding layers to engage more gut emotional appeal, originality, plausibility, and looking for inherent conflict. There is much to gain in understanding what makes books into book-club reads, what draws readers to recommend them to friends. And what makes a great story.
Written around 2000, the section on author advances is utterly outdated. However, the pressures on the publishing industry have not changed, and have only got stronger. That said, here is a writer’s writer, a book to study, highlight, consider, from which to extract your own list of books to read, as you further your own education of good writing. ...more
Thornton Wilder’s final semi-autobiographical novel, Theophilus North was a surprising read, full of self-effacing wisdoms drawn from Wilder’s observaThornton Wilder’s final semi-autobiographical novel, Theophilus North was a surprising read, full of self-effacing wisdoms drawn from Wilder’s observations and the classics. Wilder covers the spectrum of Newport life in the 1920s, drawing portraits of sad people dressed up in posh togs, full of vanities and social pressures that seem meaningless in the hundred years that have passed. This leads one to ask, will our own compulsions and stresses seem equally peculiar to those who come? His treatment of women is varied—rich women trapped and hating parental pressure, causing migraines so severe as to be considered a tumor, or so controlling as to have emasculated a ‘fine war hero’. But he also has working class women who are more than props, Journalists who can change public opinion, a retired maid turned boarding-house landlady with a large circle of influence, and more.
A number of literary allusions must be looked up if one is to enjoy this multi-lingual journey. Wilder also charms us by making famous writers accessible—here lived Henry James, here Bishop Berkeley. His character is a Yale man, son of a Yale alumnus, and one of his clients is a Harvard man. Learning and wealth are taken for granted. “In an office! No!” he cries, turning down a well-paying job. Later he declines a position with a neurospecialist to be his assistant. Talk about white male privilege!
He also asks us to believe there was once a time when a modest living could be made reading to children and seniors, giving lessons in languages and tennis! There is gold to be mined in these stories, each drawn with suspense and colored with dialog, each with some trouble to be solved intelligently and cleverly, even without the knowledge of the recipient of this benevolence. The plots are simple, a plan to be made, allies gathered and set in motion. The plans invariably work, no surprises there. It is the relationships among the characters that intertwine.
SPOILER HERE: The gold, then, is little asides and insights into the human condition. For me, however, the grand reveal was a letdown. Scandalous in the 20s, a one night stand is now ho-hum commonplace. With old fashioned chivalry, the association is not remarked upon—the lady has been engaged to another almost from page one. In these episodes, North plays cupid, endearing himself to the reader, but gives in to vanity in an episode where saving a young woman from entering society spares her from migraines. Taking this to extremes, the young North becomes a reluctant shaman, a saint, as was his ambition. For one steeped in literature and science this seems crass. “There are mysteries in nature,” his protegee reminds us. Alas, youth are merely props to whom young North can pontificate. Is that their purpose in the constellations that Wilder recommends we build around us, constellations of friends our own age, and with those older and younger.
North then moves back to a previous time to pick up the story of Bodo and Persis, leaving the revering crowds unresolved, to ride away in a new jalopy, much as he had arrived, returning to the ‘noble cowboy’ trope. But he has things to say about the first war, about money and marrying money, about the service, and combat veterans. His volume charms, each tale unfolds happily in the hands of a competent story teller, drawing to no climax but a resolution of loose ends, with a final flashback to explain, “why Newport?” We understand how a single night at the end of the first war, a single remark, “I shall have a shop in Newport. It will be a great success,” can lead a fellow to hoping. But when the search is done he has friends, many friends, all grateful for his efforts on their behalf, and a trove of stories, varied life experience and the plan for a career. ...more
Dear Miss Shelly, Would it surprise you to know that while your boyfriend ‘the great poet’ Percy Bysshe Shelley is barely remembered 230 years later, yDear Miss Shelly, Would it surprise you to know that while your boyfriend ‘the great poet’ Percy Bysshe Shelley is barely remembered 230 years later, you most certainly are? Yes, your book Frankenstein birthed a whole genre called gothic/horror, and is deeply admired after two centuries.
Your last chapter is a monument to the essential loneliness of a human being, and the terrible sentence of being abandoned by one’s tribe, or not ever having one. Will it surprise you to know that today we have every possible technology to keep us connected, yet many feel utterly disconnected from other human contact? Those final words you put in your monster’s mouth—are simply heart rending. They take your book from the mundane to the sublime. I wept for your monster, although he has murdered the fairest and most gentle creature you portrayed in the narrative. He has also attempted to abduct a child, and murdered it. Yet I wept. Even knowing this, I wept. For you described how he woke, learned to speak, to read, what books he read, and how he felt while reading them. In the climax his self-sentence is so well drawn, his self-punishment so harsh and just and honorable, one cannot help pity, even like this creature, far more than one likes the creator. There is much to admire in your book.
Now for some criticisms, which I hope you will forgive. The epistolary style is a cumbersome one, a burdensome structure to carry an entire novel. You show us a brother, R Walton writing to his sister Margaret to narrate the story of a man he found in the icebound north seas. You expended an entire three chapters to establish R Walton as an explorer and explain why he’s in these ice-bound waters. Then we meet ‘the traveler’ in chapter 4. For the next, goodness, twenty chapters, we hear the traveler’s story, realize he is the scientist Frankenstein, but must wade through the story of his parents, his childhood and friends of which only one features in the real story here, the adoption of Elizabeth who will be his wife someday, the books he read, his early career mistakes, his college life, his professors, and on and on.
We see the monster only four times in the entire narration. Of these, the first three are narrated by the traveler, and the last by R Walton himself. Could you not speed things up and have the monster (who is never named!) show up earlier? As writers, we are asked to start the story in the midst of action (In media Res)--that would help keep readers more engaged, don’t you agree? In the end your book is not about a monster at all, it is about us, about how deprivation creates monsters, and deep distress inures one to the consequences of one’s actions, resulting in every possible devastation, crime and injustice one can imagine. This is a brilliant portrait of society. Your society, and mine, two hundred years later.
Some have called your book an allegory to Genesis, where the Almighty has turned away from man, who is the monster. Others have treated it as an indictment of poor parenting, where lack of love creates social outcasts, unable to love or be loved. These may be far from what you intended. Regardless, I read, and reread, your words that raised a fist to the heavens, protesting the unjust beginnings and terrible alienation of your monster, and felt his pain. That is a writer’s job, and in that, you have excelled. Well done, Miss Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin....more