Archive for October, 2014

Friendswood

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

By Rene´ Steinke

The Short Take:

Steinke weaves together the stories of four families in a small Texas town, where too many people ignore uncomfortable truths in their search for success and “belonging.”  There’s a lot of hypocrisy and pain but ultimately this is a story of redemption — sometimes where it is least looked for.

Why?

Friendswood revolves around hidden pollution. Not just from the Super Fund site on one side of town, but other secrets that various townsfolk know but refuse to publicly acknowledge. Religion plays a prominent role in the town, but the primary church portrayed places a toxic focus on sinfulness and belief in Jesus as a source of riches.

Steinke’s novel was inspired in part by The Rapture Exposed by Barbara Rossing, which interprets that Bible book as being about redemption instead of the end of days. You can feel that inspiration as the story unfolds and various characters come to realize what really matters and what they can’t control.

While this is no thriller, there is a palatable tension throughout as the various characters face their inner pain while pushing against each other to achieve their goals. Steinke’s characters are fully realized — you know who they are and understand their actions, even if you do not approve of them.

It’s a strong novel, but not always an easy one.

A Little Plot:

Lee has become an environmental activist after her daughter dies of cancer from the pollution in their neighborhood, which became a Super Fund site. She believes there are more contaminants lurking nearby to poison others. Real estate agent Hal wants a contract to sell the homes being built on that possibly toxic land and is sure if he prays enough it will happen.

Hal’s son, Cully, is the high school football hero, and participates in a terrible action that continues to eat at him. Dex is the football team’s manager, always on the fringes. Quiet student Willa’s blind admiration of Cully leads to tragedy. And, the whole town is reeling from a string of disasters: pollution, hurricanes, and the economy.

You can learn more about Steinke and her work on Wikipedia.

The Miniaturist

Monday, October 6th, 2014

By Jessie Burton

The Short Take:

This book about a young bride entering the secretive household of a wealthy trader in 17th century Amsterdam just never gelled for me. Very Gothic in atmosphere with lots of mysterious attitudes and activities; it wasn’t bad but it didn’t really work either.

Why?

At first I thought I was reading a reworking of Rebecca, the heroine seemed so cowed by her situation. Not so, thankfully, but the mass of secrets in this novel never really wove together in a cohesive story. Perhaps the most frustrating element was the titular character — she seems to be all-knowing but there’s never any explanation why — not even a magical one.

Burton’s inspiration was the real Petronella Oortman’s dollhouse (cabinet house), which is on display in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum — that’s where the miniaturist comes in, sending unasked-for-items to put in the house. It’s an interesting plot device, however it doesn’t forward the story or shed light. It’s really a distraction from more important plot points.

All the right mystery elements and atmosphere are here, however it just doesn’t hang together as a romance, a mystery, or magical realism.

A Little Plot:

Eighteen-year-old Nella has been married off to a wealthy Amsterdam trader she barely knows. His household includes an austere sister, an African manservant, and an impertinent maid; all of whom have secrets. Nella has no real place in it as her husband shows no interest in her and the sister runs everything.

The cabinet house is a gift meant to keep Nella occupied, but once the miniaturist sends over the first bits of furnishings, the mysteries of the household and its occupants become even more complex.

Learn more at the author’s website by clicking here.

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