Author Archives: cmiller

Book Review: Little Known Facts by Christine Sneed

Little Known Facts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christine Sneed

Little Known Facts

February 2013

Bloomsbury USA

ISBN: 978-1608199679

 

Christine Sneed’s debut novel, Little Known Facts, is a heartwarming and genuinely thoughtful look at the glitz and glamor in today’s star obsessed, reality television watching material world. Sneed successfully humanizes Renn Ivins and his complicated family, highlighting their flaws and sufferings in a circumspect and close-to-home manner. Sneed’s lens offers the reader a candid and, at times, humbling view of what it takes to find your way in life – no matter who your daddy is. It is as if Sneed possesses a powerful fluorescent light that out-shines the stardom of Hollywood, allowing the reader to see beyond the spotlight of fame to discover the everyday worries and disappointments of these seemingly advantaged families. Renn’s slew of ex-wives  and lovers and late life insecurities remind us that they have as many, if not more issues than the “normal” or “average” American family. Addressing aging, self-acceptance and love, Sneed proves that with the right insight and understanding we can all find our place in life—whether it was where we thought we would be or where we never thought we would ever be. Her insight is astounding and her delivery is flawless.

Sneed stands strong as a fiction contender. She is a refreshing alternative to the ghostwritten tell-alls and celebrity biographies that assault our senses from every angle—in  book and grocery stores nationwide and I am sure the public would agree that the truthfulness of this story rivals those. Her story is light in a way that it even has the tendency to poke fun at itself—there is a novel about a famous family within the novel about a famous family. Melanie (ex-wife #2) publishes a memoir titled This is Not Gold, and reflects on whether or not some of her decisions were for the reasons she had thought.

In chapter eight, titled “A Good Person,” Sneed bestows the opportunity upon the reader to examine Renn under a microscope. The reader learns that he keeps detailed and rigorous journals of his life and feelings. These journals start at the first of every year and are promptly burned at the end. In this chapter, Sneed reveals the desperation that so many have to “tell their story.” How misinterpreted one’s life can become. Renn keeps two journals: one to be published postmortem and a second that is personal. He defends his keeping of a journal, revealing that it “…is where I write down things that I have done or thoughts I have had that sometimes make it hard to sleep at night…Despite the risks, I need to keep this second journal because it’s like a pressure valve—if it weren’t there, my life would blow up” (173). Most people with jobs, families and stress can relate to needing a similar sort of release.

With this novel Sneed reminds her readers that at the heart of things we are all the same. We struggle, we fight, we suffer and we do terribly embarrassing things—no matter our age or stature. We wish that we could control how people view us—and though we may not have a post mortem memoir that is worthy of publication, we do have pride and a sense of self-preservation that is inherent in almost everyone. There is a humanizing detail to every persona and perhaps if one were to take the time to step back and look, we would all discover that money, fame, popularity, and success are all just things and with those things come grief, sadness, disappointment and self-realization.

 

 

Crystal Miller lives in Tampa, FL with her family where she teaches writing at Hillsborough Community College. She is a voracious reader and before entering Sierra Nevada’s MFA program, she earned her Bachelor of Arts at SUNY Empire State College with a dual major in Literature and Creative Writing. Crystal is currently working on her first novel, which will be the first in a series regarding female serial killers.

 

iPhone Misc 620

Book Review: Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

Disgrace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

J.M. Coetzee

Disgrace

2008

Penguin Books

ISBN: 978-0143115281

 

J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace is a well-crafted novel that will leave any reader feeling fortunate that he is not David Laurie. Laurie, a seemingly successful professor in Africa’s Cape Town, loses almost everything through a series of questionable decisions that are then followed by a series of unfortunate events. When his life goes awry, he flees to the African countryside and his daughter, Lucy, only to find that his life’s difficulties continue to amass amidst the turmoil of South Africa. In a place where life should be simpler, easier, Laurie discovers true pain and agony—the sort that can only come from someone harming those you love and the realization that you are useless in the matter. He discovers that the danger that lurks around every corner is not exclusive to the city—perhaps even worse in the countryside where areas tend to have their own practices and hierarchies.

Coetzee seems to be reiterating the theme of a man’s “goodness” and mortality as he did in his earlier novel, Slow Man, and again in his later novel, Waiting for the Barbarians. Both of his earlier novels present the reader with a main character who has suffered greatly and personally (though the placement of the injury varies a bit between the two). Laurie has a less-than-passionate, and at brief moments confusing, affair with his student Tiffany and much like the one that occurs between the magistrate and barbarian girl in Waiting for the Barbarians, it leads him to experience a series of struggles. Laurie’s struggles begin with the loss of his career and continue to escalate after he retreats to his daughter’s smallholding in the country.

Coetzee uses a chronological structure (with a sprinkling of flashbacks) in Disgrace to heighten the tension of the plot. Laurie’s series of unfortunate circumstances comprise the girth of the novel, leaving the reader feeling as if he is barely able to tread water. There are two very significant robbery scenes in this novel that act almost as a structural framework for the story. When Lucy and Laurie experience the first robbery scene, in chapter eleven, it is a harsh blow; however, when Laurie returns to his home in chapter twenty and finds it too has been burglarized the reader cannot help but feel as if his heads are being pressed below the surface. The second robbery scene unfolds like this: “[it is]…no ordinary burglary. A raiding party moving in, cleaning out the site, retreating laden with bags, boxes, suitcases…who at this moment is wearing his shoes?…from the bathroom…a bad smell…a pigeon…expired in the basin…the lights are cut off, the telephone is dead” (176). This scene, however powerful it may be on its own, is next to devastating in its context. It also reveals the depths of sorrow that Laurie needs to reach to spur him to change—to make a commitment to something that is otherwise uncomfortable.

Coetzee excels at the development of characters with flaws and insecurities; he has proved his talent for characterization novel and novel again. It seems he has also found a niche in the troubled middle-aged man who has lost his passion and is only spurred into reality after an affair with a younger woman goes terribly wrong. Perhaps Coetzee is using such stories to warn his peers of careless decisions—or perhaps he is revealing a little something of himself and his views through a new and hopelessly defective character. Whatever Coetzee’s intentions are, his result is a deeply revelatory and moving experience for his reader, one that resonates in such an unsettling way that it is not likely to leave them for quite a while.

 

 

Crystal Miller lives in Tampa, FL with her family where she teaches writing at Hillsborough Community College. She is a voracious reader and before entering Sierra Nevada’s MFA program, she earned her Bachelor of Arts at SUNY Empire State College with a dual major in Literature and Creative Writing. Crystal is currently working on her first novel, which will be the first in a series regarding female serial killers.

iPhone Misc 620