Let me start by saying Karen S. Bell is obviously a very intelligent person.. and she knows it and embraces it and expects everyone else to recognize it too because, well it is obvious she is not just confident, she is convinced.. It’s also quite obvious from the voice she uses from her protagonist. Personally after finally finishing this book, which I had to stop myself from skimming past the purple prose so I could honestly write this review (that and I would have been done in 30 minutes if I did), I wanted to drink 5-liters of wine, black out and forget I had read it. Damn it.. I promised I would not be one of those reviewers, but this is really hard. Seriously, I am trying not to be mean, but the thing is? It really is the perfect example of purple prose (and this is not a good thing). Let’s try this again.
Sunspots, if you like a story which is full of itself, whose characters are stereotyped from the tippy top of the heels of her Milanos and descriptions are tell.. tell… throw a bunch of $25 dollar words in to prove just how smart you are but never show what you are trying to show. Where the magic that is the Aurora Borealis (and believe me, honey I know, I am an Alaskan) is.. umm wrapped up in TIEDDIE (we will cover that little SP issue in a bit). If you like an author who uses those big words to make it balloon out into a full length novel. If you are looking for a story with .. umm wait what was this about? Oh gods I give up, if she gave up trying to be so bloody flowery and put more effort into showing (this doesn’t mean showing off) and not telling it may just have been a novella around 10-15K but at least it would have been a story and not, whatever this was! It would have been so much more tolerable, probably really enjoyable and it would have been a much better experience if it were. The repetitive style also seemed like an attempt to be allegorical without really understanding allegory, basing the use of her poem at the beginning, I maybe assuming too much here, but the use of the poem throughout the novel leads me to believe this is the case.
As it was, I wasted an afternoon reading it and yet I still keep giggling a little bit inside when I think of some of the things I read. I was struck with the evocation of smugness which screamed from between these ballooned lines. So when I got to the third chapter and it starts with “One can never be, and should never be, smug about life.” I spit my drink out and thought holy shit… yep, that’s about all I could do. After this, the protagonist when not whining) was all of a sudden barreling through this myriad of name dropping, pop-culture, mish-mash something or other with .. again I am just still at a loss for words.
I was insulted on the extreme pompous tone, the cliche and generalized characterizations and extreme stereotyping of her characters. I also loath when the characters are constantly harping on with name brands they are wearing. I am reminded of the class I took from Bram Stoker award winning editor Michael Knost who says “Remember when writing a description, the rule of WGAS (who gives a shit.” If you are going to write it, does it really matter. Does it matter that Frodo has green eyess? No, who gives a shit, SHOW It don’t tell it. What brand of shoes she wore, or purse she had, etc, did not really matter in this story, it just did not fit!! And.. MAGICAL REALISM, don’t claim to be a story within the genre of magical realism just because there is a bit of magic in it. The tone is passionate and as I said above, has magical aspects, but that does not make it magical realism. This is as much a book that falls in the realm of magical realism as the last zombie book I read. Sorry, that is base fact. It has qualities of paranormal and magical feelings, a touch of the unknown and again passion but, not magical realism.
I know folks like books like this! And sometimes there is something to be said about ones writing of purple prose. It is a style which can be done well and successfully. Dickens did it and did it well. Vladimir Nabokov is another author who not only studied romantic styles of language but again did it well, like Tolstoy who successfully pulled it off and many contemporary writers have made and make it work. But, if you cannot even spell tieddie right and yet the protag is constantly talking about her parents hippie lifestyle .. ummmm, hello? Then in next breath how she bought some name brand shoes which takes a few paragraphs to pontificate about and doing the whole obnoxious swoon…
Yet with all this passion there was still no depth, nothing and I still never really figured out what the hell this was about. Sure I know the story was about loss, her prologue was pretty nice. I did finally manage to figure it out.. I think, but I kept thinking.. THE POINT, what the hell is the point? The synopsis promises us a journey through her grief, not the showing off vocabulary!!! ARGH.. again sorry, sorry sorry I am really trying here!!!
This was suppose to be this magical journey, this window into grief and coping… I think? One may want to make sure you know how to spell important words, use a comma or semi-colon correctly and understand what run-on sentences are. (I certainly do and am OK with writing a blog post with run-ons however…) Or you insist on using tee shirt instead of t-shirt and your grammar is worse than mine in some places (yes some because it was not consistent at all). At least I know, can admit and be humble enough to admit my grammar blows? The book is in hardcore need of a very tight line-edit. Maybe I am off-base here but if it takes me out of the book it is probably worse that it is.
You would think someone who is obviously as intelligent as this author is and who is as passionate as she is she would want it to be perfect, self-published or not. Finding the magic in everything she observes is great, but she may want to find something other than contemporary romance to express it with because this book fell flat on it’s face.
What are Purple Prose???
Purple Prose: Writing so extravagant or orate that it breaks the flow of the narrative and draws attention to itself.
The Elements of Style calls this writing that is “hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating.” There’s no solid example of purple prose since the definition is subjective, but it is something you definitely don’t want. Below is one example of the evolution from concise language to purple prose:
- Plain: He set the cup down.
- Middle Ground: He eased the Big Gulp onto the table.
- ACK: Without haste, the tall, blond man lowered the huge, plastic, gas station cup with a bright red straw onto the slick surface of the coffee table.
I do want to say some positive things here though. I thought the prologue shows promise and I liked the structure of the book, yep I did. I loved how she took a poem, one of hers … of course *wink* and she used the lines for the titles of her chapters. I liked that and thought it was clever and I am sure Ms. Bell does too *wink*.