Tag Archives: immigrant stories

What about the squirrels?

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/graeme-daniels/blended2/

Okay, so I’m not going to be churlish about my Kirkus review. On the whole, their critique of Blended is positive and fair, given the limitations of space (allocated word count for the review), plus the needs/priorities of their readership. I particularly enjoy the compliment directed at my style: “Daniels writes in a fluid, elegant prose”, though I’m also aware by now that in the world of publishing, good prose isn’t what sells books. High concept or gripping plots are the order of fiction. Besides that, for those who may be interested in my modest family drama, the pieces between the lines, or the elements not commented upon, here’s my response to my best Kirkus review thus far—my filling in of the gaps.

First of all, regarding the summary: Kirkus generally does a good job of summarizing the plots of the books they review, and most of their efforts seem directed towards this task. In fact, blink once too often and you might miss what the reviewer actually thinks of a work. So, not too many complaints in this department, just a comment on what is missing. Tillie Marsden, my protagonist, does indeed have an altruistic (if waywardly so) bent, and is only thinly understood by her husband, Bill, adequately described here as benignly workaholic. Jacob, the stepson, is however, much more than a surly twenty-something who mostly gives silence to Tillie, as the reviewer suggests. Like the primitivistic imps that are the immigrant Pakistani couple’s seven children, Jacob is a rambunctious, unfinished dish at large in Tillie’s back garden and inner space. He recalls for her callow habits, dreams, and other lost ways of her own youth, and amidst the comic boyishness of Jacob, his ‘gross-out’ edge, there is within him a thoughtful streak that moves Tillie.

Passages about eating habits, misadventures around food, plus a certain amount of toilet humor may have thrown my Kirkus reviewer. There is little to suggest in his or her 700-word opinion that these parts of the book were much more than filler between plot advancements. I’m used to this: several of my novels feature tangents and other indulgences that bemuse some readers. It’s an aspect of what I believe is my surrealistic style. Symbolic phrases and cryptic elements abound, there to be seen if readers care about such nuance, and to be missed by the majority because…because they have better things to do? I don’t know. I think lasting art, or at least that which has captured my mind, is rarely there on the surface, seen or heard the first time one scrolls past. Elements, bits and pieces, aggregate and tell stories beyond the story. Seriously. Therefore, back to eating, belching and farting, the beta elements of my social chaos theme: The seven kids of my Pakistani family are meant to parallel Jacob’s persona, serving the “twinned lives of the two families” idea that the reviewer observes.

It’s gratifying that this aspect of the novel was noticed: “an admirable attempt to figure out something about America’s view of itself and the outside world”. But what about George, my Donald Trump stand-in who takes over leadership at Tillie’s ACS job and plays the bombastic vulgarian, crudely intruding upon civilized order until learning some humility at that subplot’s end? A happy resolution, I thought. Worth mentioning, I further think. What about the undercurrent of imperial corruption that lies within the working world of Bill and his not-so-benign corporate employers? Turns out they were the company that employed Bahram, the father of the refugee family, hence their emigration to the town wherein Bill and Tillie live. It also turns out that Bahram left his former job and country under a cloud, having been embroiled in nefarious events in Pakistan, a residue of which is exported to Bishop Grove and revealed in the novel’s climactic sequence. Wasn’t that worth mentioning? I also wonder.

And finally, what about my squirrels, those mute, intrusive yet ubiquitous creatures whose scrambling, ravenous pleasure feeds on us, somehow comments upon us? They chase each other, fighting over territory, competing over resources provided by hosts, and acting with entitlement, as if thinking they’ve been here longer than anyone or thing. Buy a copy of Blended and you’ll see a squirrel on the back cover, lurking upon a tree, gazing upon the Marsden household. Project what you like onto its expressionless void. Imagine who might take the squirrels’ places in another reality, locked out but coveting what’s in.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Kirkus reviews Blended

Finally, a Kirkus reviewer likes one of my novels. Take a look:

 

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/graeme-daniels/blended2/

 

More later. Let me take it in…

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Judging a book by its cover

 

Stay close to home: that was the advice—more of a plea, actually—of Tillie’s mother. She’d been widowed when Tillie was sixteen, and when she was in middle age, where Tillie is now. Where the author of Blended is now. Write about what you know, advise some. And I do, in bits and pieces, with the rest culled from various sources. I know a bit about immigration, actually, because I’m an immigrant from the UK, of almost forty years. Despite that fact, I know something about staying close to home, especially in recent years. I am middle-aged…sigh. The rest of Blended emerges from bits and pieces observed—in some cases poached—from others’ lives, reliable if imperfect witnesses. The subtext of Blended involves that which everyone observes, or ought to, anyway. That’s the stuff everyone gets to think about.

Tillie Marsden, my protagonist, is not an immigrant, but she once departed from another culture. I write that comment as an assimilated Californian, as someone who has never visited Tennessee, Tillie’s birthplace, which she left behind to attend college as a late teen. Today, I—and a lot of Californians, I think—look upon states like Tennessee as foreign countries. It is the heart of Red-state America—red-stained America according to some. It is Trump country. Before it, Bush country, and before that, it was the battleground (or close to it) of the civil rights movement and confederate heritage. In my stereotyping mind, it is linked with provincial conservatism, and therefore it is the backdrop of Tillie’s reactive interests.

And yet, she hasn’t traveled that much. She hasn’t learned that much about foreign culture, exotic or not. She hasn’t had the adventures she may have pined for as a girl; the freedom she may have craved as a young woman. At fifty-two, she has found stability in genteel, suburban, not-quite foreign life. She has a husband of seven years—a man who seems to provide normalcy, even a benignly backwards mentality, in all matters. Bill Marsden, a stalwart Oregonian, has stayed close to home—perhaps too close to home—for he struggles to understand his kids’ separatist ways. He seems split between his parents’ divergent models: father a veteran and rogue; mother a hoarding, hypochondriac nest-builder. Bill’s tacit compromise is to vacation with ardor, but otherwise stay home. Keep mother happy. Keep wives happy.

A one-time divorcee (Tillie has failed at marriage twice), he has yet to get it right with women, and Tillie’s satisfaction is ambiguous. He is vulnerable, and she is at least distracted. There’s a sense in Blended that Tillie’s one-time aspirations, her fanciful dreams, got away from her, but she’s not quite done with them. Former adventures are un-finished; plans were aborted (don’t take that literally). She’s had a stop-start life, both in love and work. In play she has been more careful, though her friends, with whom she lives vicariously, are less so: her workmate, Gina, for example; Bahram, the Pakistani man whom she befriends through her current volunteer work. That volunteer job, seized in serendipity, is the residue of a one-time dalliance with social work: a life that got away.

The cover of Blended says something of her present life, blending iconic images of middle America with ominous clouds hovering above. On the back cover, in the back yard, so to speak, are the onlooking squirrels, symbolizing mischief, possibly menace. Judge it (the cover), for I think you’ll be impressed by the evocative art of my friend and collaborator, Philip Lawson. The interior of the Marsden’s American Craftsman is closed, but not boarded up or wrapped in iron railings for protection. Complacency and comfort, situated on the eve of disruption, is implied. Naivete or ignorance may be suggested also, but for that you’d have to look beyond the cover and read. Reading might be the best antidote to naivete and ignorance, but I don’t know, really. I don’t know anything about the refugee’s immigration, for example. Haven’t lived that. Can’t just read about that. So there. I don’t only write what I know.

Graeme Daniels, MFT

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized