June 17, 2016 · 1:36 pm
“So happy just to see you smile/Underneath this sky of blue/On this new morning, new morning/On this new morning with you.” – Bob Dylan
Honest, Uplifting, Revealing… Excellent.
Its. Nice. Outside.: A Novel by Jim Kokoris (St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 320 pages)
Jim Kokoris’ 2002 novel, The Rich Part of Life, which has been published in 15 different languages, earned the Friends of American Writers Award for Best First Novel. I have not read that book, but I plan to do so now. Having just ripped through his latest, Its. Nice. Outside., it’s easy to see why Rich was so highly acclaimed.
Its. Nice. Outside. is the tale of many things, “Family, Family, Family, USA,” among them (one must read the book to understand this reference). But the truth is, in today’s world, how does one even begin to imagine a Leave It to Beaver perfect family? How does one define love? How do young adults ever actually leave the nest or get their feet under them? How does one forgive? Who does one blame when one has run out of people to blame?
How do adults move past broken dreams? Does anyone ever really know how and when it’s time to let go? And how does one, in the midst of the chaos that has now become a normalized reality, manage to simultaneously raise a disabled child?
When John Nichols embarks on a cross-country journey with his adult autistic child, Ethan, to attend his adult daughter Karen’s wedding; and when he joins up with celebrity daughter, Mindy; and when he finally encounters his ex-wife, Mary, things have deteriorated so much in the present that the past begins to matter much less. To hold grudges, to forgive, to have the courage to move on, to have the courage to let it go… Its. Nice. Outside. is a story of love and humanity, with these five characters the vessels through which important themes are channeled. Yet they are real enough to be your neighbors.
Any flaw in the telling is so minor that it does not merit referencing.
After many swimming pools, potty stops, Cracker Barrels, hotel rooms, and pickles, the reader who is continuously compelled to turn to the next page, regrettably comes to the end of this great novel. The genius of it is that Kokoris manages to accomplish this in 308 pages. This is indicative of someone who knows how to both write a very, very good story and provoke an honest look in the mirror.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Dave Moyer is an education administrator in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.
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January 28, 2011 · 7:26 pm
The Boomers in our audience will remember what things used to be like during the late 1950s and the early 60s. A recording artist, like Chubby Checker, would have a hit with a song like The Twist; which meant that the follow-up 45 single had to sound as close to it as humanly possible (this usually meant a virtually identical tune with different words attached to it). In Chubby’s case, the next song was Let’s Twist Again. It is to the credit of the Beatles that they broke this pattern of releasing songs that were virtual clones of each other.
Sometimes as a reader and reviewer I see this same pattern applying itself when it comes to popular fiction. Let’s say that our debut author Christy Crafty writes a novel called Becky from Bakersfield. Against seemingly all odds this story of a woman who can see what is going to happen in people’s futures becomes a moderate success. So what happens next? You guessed it, Christy does not want to rock the boat so she releases a follow-up (and the titles and book covers will naturally be quite similar) called Florence from Fresno. This will turn out to be almost the same tale except for the fact that this time around our female protagonist can see what happened in the past of the lives of the strangers she meets. The third book may be Sally from Stockton, about a woman who knows when people will die as soon as she encounters them.
Now this may not be such a horrible strategy from a sales standpoint, except for the fact that book one is likely going to get great reviews, and each succeeding variation is going to be less charitably commented on. Eventually, Christy herself is likely to see that she’s put herself into a rut. And then even her most loyal readers will begin calling for something new and original from her.
Why are reviewers and readers going to be increasingly disappointed in this commercial product? Because the freshness that accompanied the original novel from author Crafty is slowly leaked out like air from a damaged tire. The once delightful story that gets reworked over and over again becomes dull and flat.
It is my own view – and it’s much easier for me to say since I do not write novels – that the moderately to highly successful new author should, after the release of the first well-sold and reviewed novel, quickly change styles before the release of the second book. Why? To prove to readers, critics and the world that he/she is a writer, one who can write novels of many forms, short stories, poetry (if the muse strikes), and perhaps articles on politics and sports. Again, why? Because this is the creative process – this is the essence of writing. Writing the same story repeatedly is not creative and fails to display one’s talents.
It was the singer Natalie Merchant who noted that you simply cannot give the public what it thinks it wants, which is candy (musical or literary) all of the time. If you do, the public gets tired of you after it comes down from the sugar high – the false creative rush. Once they get tired of the same old thing, they not only stop buying it, they also join the critics in their anguished howls.
So what is the moral of the story? That creativity has its costs. Being creative, continually and over a career, takes courage. It takes real courage to write what you need to write even if it is not what you wrote before…
Just look at the careers of this country’s most highly rewarded authors – the Capotes, the Mailers and others of their ilk – and you’ll see that they did not settle for rewriting one story time after time. (Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood could not be less similar.) They branched out; they changed even if simply for change’s sake. They stayed alive, as the Beatles did with their music, ever evolving, ever-growing; each and every collection of songs by John, Paul, George and Ringo was the result of new periods and experiences in their lives.
To borrow the words of Bob Dylan, life should be about new mornings. It’s not dark yet, unless you elect to go living in the past, the shades drawn tight.
Pictured: The Girl in the Green Raincoat: A Tess Monaghan Novel by Laura Lippman, which was released by William Morrow and Harper Audio on January 18, 2011. This book (actually a 176 page novella) has absolutely no relationship to the matters discussed in this article – I simply like the intriguing cover image which makes me want to read it. Look for a review of The Girl in the Green Raincoat to appear on this site in the near future.
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