Tag Archives: Small Town

Happenings Ten Years Time Ago

Fragile: A Novel by Lisa Unger (Broadway; $15.00; 352 pages)

“The sins of a family always fall on the daughter.”   P.F. Sloan

“She already knew the hard edges of the world, knew that life disappointed and that most people’s dreams never did come true.”   Lisa Unger

This one is a stunner.   In Fragile, author Lisa Unger tells the story of four fragile lives that are joined together by events separated by twenty years.   Unger’s genius is in plotting the story so that the reader never knows what’s coming next.

The story starts with a look-in at what appears to be a crime being committed, although the facts are not clear.   What is clear is that a young woman, Charlene, has gone missing.   She intended to run away from her sleepy community, The Hollows, in New York State in order to make music in Manhattan.   But she’s suddenly fallen off the face of the earth.

The residents of The Hollows, including the young woman’s mother and her boyfriend Ricky’s parents, are forced to revisit their memories of a high school girl named Sarah who disappeared two decades earlier.   She was found dead, mutilated; a crime to which a male classmate confessed.   But the young man who said he killed her was troubled and perhaps mentally unstable.   He went on to spend years in state prison, before he died by his own hand.

With this background we fear that Charlene has been abducted or murdered by the evil force or forces that killed Sarah.   Charlene’s mother was a classmate of Sarah’s, as was Ricky’s mother, Maggie and his police detective father.   These adults are all keeping secrets about their lives both now and at the time that Sarah was killed.

Others in the community also know things about the events surrounding the past crime, but they’re not talking.   The residents of The Hollows become frozen with the fear that they are reliving a nightmare and elect to hide rather than speak.   With little information to go on, the local police force begins to suspect Ricky’s involvement in Charlene’s disappearance.   Charlene did, after all, stand him up on the night she left home and had informed her friends about another boyfriend in New York City.

As the tale proceeds, we see that there are no perfect families in The Hollows.   The parents criticize their children for doing the very things they did when they were young, and this simply piques the desire of the young to escape as soon as they can.   The current mystery, the apparent crime that surrounds the disappearance of Charlene, will only be solved by confessions.   Because there may very well be links between what may have happened to Charlene and what happened “twenty years time ago” to Sarah.

“As she told them all about her buried memory, she felt an awe at how their separate lives were twisted and tangled, growing over and around each other…  And how the connections between them were as terribly fragile as they were indelible.”

There will be no hints here – no spoiler alerts needed – as to the fate of Charlene and Ricky, except to note that Unger convinces us that everything in life is so well-connected (if hardly explainable).   The past is, indeed, prelude.   This is a read that will stay with you.

Unique, stunning.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Fragile will be released as a trade paperback book on May 17, 2011.

“…filled with perfectly written sentences…”   New Mystery Reader

“A rich tapestry of psychological wounds…”   Kirkus Reviews


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The Superhero

The Side-Yard Superhero by Rick D. Niece (Synergy Books, $17.95)

“Used to dream in that small town/ Another born romantic that’s me…”   John Mellencamp, “Small Town”

Automythography – A work of nonfiction that looks reflectively at what we think we remember and how we think we remember it; an iridescent memory based upon truth and fact.   Rick D. Niece

Rick D. Niece made a promise to a childhood friend, and while the central premise of his book The Side-Yard Superhero revolves around his visit later in life to his ailing former companion in which he fulfills that promise, the book is more about the simplicity and human decency found in the everyday experiences of small-town America.

Niece, president of College of the Ozarks, constructs his tale almost as if he pulled the old John Irving trick and started with the ending of the story and then moved backward to the first sentence.   In between is the story of Niece’s childhood in DeGraff, Ohio.

As a boy, Niece secures a paper route and, in so doing, interacts with virtually everyone in his hometown.   This includes the unforgettable Bernie Jones, who – stricken with cerebral palsy – eagerly awaits Niece’s arrival on his bicycle each day from his wheelchair in the yard along the side of the house.

The reader encounters church socials, trick or treating, and Boy Scout award ceremonies.   Even the carnival comes to town and, you guessed it, Rickie takes Bernie.

Think Mitch Albom, and you have the idea of the type of storytelling you will experience in Side-Yard.   The book occasionally slips into sentimentality, but it is largely free of it, because the book has a more comprehensive story to tell than just the relationship between its two characters.   The verse which is interspersed between chapters is usually effective and works better than anticipated.

Without giving away too much of the story, this reviewer is left to wonder if hope really can keep a person alive; if history will ultimately judge America on how it treats its old, sick, and weak; and what in the world this country would be like if we were ever to lose our small towns.

Some stories need to be told, and some writers have a story they just have to tell.   This is the case with Rick D. Niece’s The Side-Yard Superhero.

Recommended.

This review was written by Dave Moyer, educator and author of the novel Life and Life Only.   He is currently working on his follow-up book, Younger Than That Now.   Mr. Moyer also writes reviews for the New York Journal of Books.   (A review copy was provided by Smith Publicity.)

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