February 19, 2012 · 9:26 am
Spin: A Novel by Catherine McKenzie (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 448 pages)
How far would you go to get what you always wanted?
Party girl and music lover Kate Sanford comes closer than most to achieving her lifelong dream when she secures a job interview at her favorite music magazine, The Line. The interview has the potential to be even more special, as it is slated for her 31st birthday. However, when a friend invites her out (just for one drink) to celebrate the eve of her birthday, Kate downs a few too many – leading to a disaster the next morning.
Catherine McKenzie, in her debut novel, ably invites the reader into the story. Just when Kate believes she has blown her opportunity, she gets a call to go on an undercover assignment for the company’s sister publication, Gossip Central, a celebrity rag. Her task is to enter the same rehab facility as pop-phenom Amber Sheppard, “The Girl Next Door,” and produce an exclusive story that could lead to permanent employment at The Line. The opportunity for a juicy expose gets even better when TGND’s equally dysfunctional boyfriend and James Bond portrayer, Connor Parks, enters the same rehab facility.
Things quickly get very complicated. Does Kate herself actually need rehab? When Amber befriends her, can so go through with the story? Is there a more meaningful existence beyond living the life of a perpetual college student? Can Kate get comfortable enough with herself that she can form a meaningful relationship with another person?
In rehab Kate falls for Connor’s bodyguard, Henry. Their unlikely convergence and subsequent relationship/non-relationship/relationship form the basis for most of the second half of the book. This is where the story either takes off or gets derailed, depending on your perspective. McKenzie misses an opportunity to delve deeply into the pathos of the media entertainment industry and the addiction to celebrity of so many seemingly normal people. The moral quandary as to whether Kate should write the story comes into play in the last fourth of the novel, but serves more as a mechanism to wrap up the story than a theme that’s explored.
The author could have opted to delve deeper into Kate’s behavior, background and possible addiction, but her family and past are dealt with in a cursory manner. This oversight makes less credible any transformation in Kate at the conclusion of the story. Several music references reveal Kate’s interests and help establish some measure of place and time but do not do much to advance the story or reveal much about her or the other characters.
What’s left is the love story which, by a process of elimination, appears to be the crux of the narrative. Can Kate find true love? The book leaves just enough loose ends to satisfy the reader, yet still leave us wondering.
For readers who enjoy a light, breezy love story, this book clips along well and is satisfying. For those who prefer to go a little deeper into some questions that gnaw at the human condition, the novel does not go far enough. This reviewer concludes that many will find this book enjoyable; a worthy debut effort by McKenzie.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Spin was released on February 7, 2012. Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.
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February 18, 2012 · 11:57 am
A review of Spin: A Novel by Catherine McKenzie.
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December 22, 2010 · 3:14 pm
“I feel like the 1960’s is about to happen. It feels like a period in the future to me, rather than a period in the past.” Paul McCartney, 1994
After the Falls: Coming of Age in the Sixties – A Memoir by Catherine Gildiner (Viking; $25.95; 368 pages)
This is a memoir that I simply didn’t understand, and let me try to explain why. Memoirs – literally, a telling of personal memories – generally fall into one of two categories. In the first, the writer self-examines his or her own life very closely (if not microscopically) and critically. These generally conclude with life lessons and the writer’s unflinching willingness to accept responsibility for the mistakes he or she has made. With the second category, the writer plays it for laughs. Basically, he/she says, “I was young and irresponsible. I know that now, but back then I was such a fool. Oh, well, such is life!”
In After the Falls, Catherine Gildiner refuses to place herself in either category. She writes here about a life filled with errors and omissions but then declines to accept responsibility for her own role in it. (She’s shocked when a crime happens in front of her very eyes; a boyfriend lies to her – actually he simply fails to tell her the truth; she acts hatefully toward her parents, etc.) In a sense she commits one of the worst offenses imaginable in life, which is to be a mere observer of her actions and inactions.
Let me give a specific example of her disclaiming of responsibility. At one point, she writes about observing the gang rape of a presumably underage girl while hiding in the closet of a female friend’s house. The rape is instigated by the friend’s older brother. Does Gildiner report the crime to anyone? No. Does it even make her angry? Apparently not, although she thinks now and then about the girl who was repeatedly violated, but… But she rejects any responsibility on not one, but multiple instances within the pages of After the Falls. This raises a key question that must be asked: If one does not want to accept responsibility for things that happened decades earlier, why write a book that tells the entire world about those actions? (In other words, what is the point of all this?)
I did not read Gildiner’s earlier memoir Too Close to the Falls, but I did notice one person’s comment to the effect that this memoir is darker and more depressing than Too Close. Well, yeah. Frankly, I found it a bit dangerous as well as depressing.
It’s also, sadly, in this reviewer’s eyes a bit of a distortion of what it was like to grow up in the 1960s. There was a lot of excitement about human potential and about the leaders who later fell – beginning with John Kennedy and extending through Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. There was also the Civil Rights Movement (touched upon tangentially in these pages), and great music. But this memoir would lead one to think that the entire decade was, in the words of one notable rock band, “a drag…”, as in “What a drag it is getting up.”
To her credit, Gildiner concludes this unconventional account with an admission of how belatedly she grew to love and appreciate her parents – especially her father who lived for six years with a cancer that eventually turned his brain into “an empty honeycomb.” But it seems to be too little too late.
Missing most of all is a sense of the joyousness of growing up in what was truly a unique and energizing time. We may not be able to go back to those times, but we can certainly treat the decade more kindly that it has been portrayed here. A bit of gratitude might have been in order.
This review was written by Joseph Arellano. A review copy was received from the publisher.
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September 10, 2010 · 12:35 pm
Thanks to Judy at Doubleday, we have a copy to give away of Blind Man’s Alley: A Novel by Justin Peacock, the author of A Cure for Night. This book has a retail value of $26.95 and this is a first-run hardbound copy. The novel is said to be “an ambitious and compulsively readable novel set in the cutthroat world of New York real estate.” Here is the official synopsis:
A concrete floor three hundred feet up in the Aurora Tower condo development in SoHo has collapsed, hurling three workers to their deaths. The developer, Roth Properties (owned by the famously abrasive Simon Roth), faces a vast tangle of legal problems, including accusations of mob connections. Roth’s longtime lawyers, the elite midtown law firm of Blake and Wolcott, is assigned the task of cleaning up the mess. Much of the work lands on the plate of smart, cynical, and seasoned associate Duncan Riley; as a result, he falls into the powerful orbit of Leah Roth, the beautiful daughter of Simon Roth and the designated inheritor of his real estate empire.
Meanwhile, Riley pursues a seemingly small pro bono case in which he attempts to forestall the eviction of Rafael Nazario and his grandmother from public housing in the wake of a pot bust. One night Rafael is picked up and charged with the murder of the private security cop who caught him, a murder that took place in another controversial “mixed income” housing development being built by… Roth Properties. Duncan Riley is now walking the knife-edge of legal ethics and personal morality.
Blind Man’s Alley is a suspenseful and kaleidoscopic journey through a world where the only rule is self-preservation. The New York Times Book Review said of A Cure for Night that “(Peacock) heads toward Scott Turow country… he’s got a good chance to make partner.”
In order to enter this book giveaway contest just post a comment here, with your name and e-mail address, or send that information via e-mail to Josephsreviews@gmail.com . This will be considered to be your first entry. For a second entry, tell us who your favorite crime or courtroom drama author is – Scott Turow, John Grisham, Steve Martini, Julie Compton, Jonathan Kellerman, Robert Rotenberg of Canada (City Hall), John Verdon (Think of a Number), David Baldacci or someone else?
You have until midnight PST on Sunday, October 10, 2010 to submit your entry or entries. The winner will be drawn by Munchy the cat and will be contacted via e-mail. In order to enter this contest you must live in the continental U.S. and have a residential mailing address. Books will not be shipped to a P.O. box or a business-related address.
This is it for the “complex” contest rules. Good luck and good reading!
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