The Reunion

Monday, December 1, 2014

To Fall in Love Again

Drew Nelson did not plan to talk with anyone that morning. He did not plan to make a new friend. He certainly did not plan to fall in love.

He resisted all of Amy’s attempts to draw him out at the hotel, at the airport, on the airplane giving hurried responses and burying his face in a pile of papers. It was only when the flight attendant offered coffee, and a muscle in Amy’s back twitched as she reached for it, and the cup tipped, and the hot liquid puddled in Drew’s lap that they began to talk.

Earlier in the year, each had lost a spouse of over thirty years. Drew’s wife had died of a brain tumor, Amy’s husband when his small airplane nose-dived to earth, the engine at full throttle an accident, it was ruled.

They live in the same city. Both have grandchildren. They are about the same age. Consciously, or not, they both are looking to love again.

But relationships do not exist in vacuums. Drew is wealthy, and Amy is middle class. Amy is “new” in town – she and her husband moved to Charleston twenty-five years ago while Drew’s family has lived there for three centuries. Drew lives below Broad, a code word for high society, old families, power, and money. Amy’s home is across the river.

Class warfare may be less violent than it was in the past, but when Drew invites Amy to the St Cecelia Ball, battle lines are drawn. In a city in which ancestry is important, the ball’s membership is passed from father to son, and only those from the oldest families attend.

Family, friends, co-workers all weigh in on their relationship and choose sides. Allies are found in unexpected places. Opposition comes from among those who were thought to be friends. Though they are gone, even their spouses through things they have done and things they have said wield influence in the conflict that follows.

Amy begins to suspect that Drew is one of them, the rich snobs who despise her, while Drew concludes that Amy neither trusts him nor cares for him. As each questions the other’s motives, their feelings for each other are tested, and Drew and Amy are challenged to consider if they truly want to fall in love again.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Governess by noorilhuda

I want to be able to say “I read this book in one sitting.” I can’t truthfully say that because I read slowly and the book is long, three hundred seventeen pages on my Fire. I can say, though, that the author pulled me into the story and kept me so interested that I only put the book down because it was time for dinner or time for bed or because I had been reading so long that I was tired! I didn't WANT to put it down! 

The plot is rather straightforward. The story is set in nineteenth century England. Jane Adams has been accused of adultery, divorced by her husband, and disinherited by her father. With no money and no one willing to take her in, she is reduced to seeking employment as a governess. Lady Cavendish employs her in spite of her background, and her nephew, John Lockwood, the father of the children, continues to employ her in spite of letters from her former husband and his friends.

As the book progresses, it becomes obvious that things might not be as they seem. Jane does not behave like the woman described in the letters. John becomes suspicious of the husband’s motives. Divorce her, all right, he thinks, but why does he care if I employ her? Why try to ruin her life? Once she accumulates the funds, Jane goes to court to clear her reputation and to reclaim what is hers.

Both Nora and John want the return of what they have lost. Jane wants her old life back: her father, her work, her house. John wants the wife he had loved since they both were twelve years old. The world is such, though, that one cannot turn back a clock and retrieve the past.

One finds very little direct dialogue in the book. The story is told primarily through Jane’s thoughts, and the text reads as if the characters are thinking. People do not think in neat, simple, perfectly formed sentences, and the readers often finds long, sometimes rambling thoughts, with phrases strung together one after another. The effect is striking, and I found myself pulled along by the text.

The characters are strongly drawn. I felt as if I knew Jane and John, Nora, John’s mistress, and Mr. Pritchard, Jane’s former husband.
I loved Jane, and I wanted her to be happy. The author provided more than one means by which she might find happiness, and I wanted to know which, if any, she would experience. The conclusion is not obvious until the final pages.
I felt sorry for John, I was irritated by Nora, and I despised Mr. Pritchard.

This book is not a short, easy read, but it is well-worth your time. You will find the story to be captivating, in spite of its simplicity. You will cry with the characters, learn about human nature, and speculate on the meaning of life.

This is an excellent book!

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Ice Goddess by Hannelore Moore

The story is set in eighteenth century England. Evangeline’s parents are dead, her twin brother is missing, presumably killed by highwaymen, and she lives with her aunt, Caroline, and her husband, Gregory. When Caroline dies, Gregory forces himself on her and tells her that she then has no choice but to marry him, since no other man will have her. Upon their marriage, Gregory, as her husband, will receive her father’s estate.

Evangeline runs away.

She finds herself without money, without food, and with no shelter from the weather. Kendall befriends her and takes her to his home, where she will be safe until she turns twenty-one and can inherit herself. It would be scandalous for an unmarried woman to be traveling with him, much less residing in his home, so they pretend to be married.

The story is entertaining and holds the reader’s interest. It is realistic, too. In their time, communication was poor and travel was difficult. The staff at Kendall’s estate and the people in the nearby village have no reason to doubt that Evangeline is his wife, except for the rumors that they do not share a bedroom.

Kendall is the black sheep of his family, but he is well meaning, has a good heart, and falls for Evangeline. With her help, he is able to organize his finances and how to administer his estate.
Evangeline is painfully shy. She is at a loss how to behave at parties and how to interact with men. Former suitors have named her “the Ice Goddess” because of the aloofness that she projects to protect herself. She, too, is a good person. She falls, hard, for Kendall, but her lack of confidence and her poor self-image make it difficult for her to accept his love.

Kendall’s valet is faithful to his employer and seems to always appear whenever trouble arises. Gregory is a pig and would be in any century.

While the story does not deal with actual historical events, it does accurately reflect the laws, customs, morals, and thought patterns of eighteenth century England. The author is able to blend these with an interesting plot, good dialogue, and lovable characters produce a book that anyone who likes romance novels will enjoy.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Anabelle by Akalle

Lord Wyndham a celebrated general has been traumatized by battle, and he has decided to retire from public life. He moves to his family’s ancestral home in rural England and begins to rehabilitate the estate. He wants to marry, have a family, and live in the country, far away from the social life of London. He is searching for a wife who will share the life that he intends.

To find a wife, he has an extended house party at his estate. Guests come from London for the duration. Girls who live nearby appear each morning and stay until dinner ends each evening. Each girl attempts to capture his attention and impress on him her qualifications to be his wife. Annabelle Munson lives at Munson House, a neighboring estate, and she desperately wants to marry him. She does not plan to share his rural life, however. She intends for them to live London.

The Duke of Oldbury, a friend of Lord Wyndham’s arrives. He sees that Annabelle is not fit to be his friend’s wife, and he steps in to prevent any marriage between the two.

I find it disconcerting when a book’s main character is not a likable person. As a result, I tried very hard to like Anabelle. When she behaved inappropriately, I tried to find an explanation. When she was selfish, I tried to excuse it. When she told a lie, I tied to rationalize the untruth. Ultimately, though, I realized that Annabelle is not a nice person, and the Duke is quite correct in his conclusion about her suitability to be Lord Wyndham’s wife.

Central to the story is the idea that we do not always know what it is that will truly make us happy. Sometimes what we think we want will, in truth, make us desperately unhappy, and those things that we want to avoid are exactly what will make our lives complete. So the characters in the book discover.

The book’s descriptions, − of the ladies’ dresses, the countryside, the characters’ feelings, and, especially, the characters voices and emotions− are all vivid and are a particular strength of the book. While some aspects of the plot are rather improbable, this book is extremely well-written, and the reader finds it quite easy to suspend any doubts.

I was rather surprised, given the tone of the book to find some rather serious sexual content. The descriptions, like the others, are extremely detailed. I routinely review romance novels, and I found these scenes to be more explicit than those I have seen in quite some time. On the other hand, they flowed from the story, rather than being imposed on it, and I did not find them to be objectionable.

The descriptions, an entertaining story, and a rather unexpected conclusion result in a very enjoyable book.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Silver by Kristen Lynch

Set in the small mining town of Silver in the late eighteen sixties, the story concerns the adventures of-Adelaide Johnson. Addie grew up in the mid-west, traveling to Silver to search for her father who had arrived in town some time earlier, hoping to strike it rich. Her father died when his mine caved in. Addie inherits his silver mine. Even though she has no interest in being a prospector, she falls in love with the town and decides to stay.

She becomes the teacher for the town’s school and, as the book opens, has taken a second job as a reporter for the local newspaper, writing a column about the citizens of the town and current events. The town’s sheriff, Dan Forrester, falls in love with Addie, and, even though she does not return his feelings, he becomes her special friend and protector.

The reader is treated to a light-hearted look at the activities in the town− the fourth of July festivities, dances, book clubs, and musical events. We read about the pompous mayor, the blacksmith, the owner of the dry goods store, and the miners. We learn about crime – fighting, drinking, prostitution, even murder. While a western mining town might seem to be far removed from large cities in the East, if it happened in the East, it happened in Silver.

The story is written in the style that one might have expected to find in a book written in Addie’s time. The language and the phraseology are those of that period, rather than of the twenty-first century. Addie’s newspaper columns, for example, sound exactly like the narrative, itself. The style is unusual, and it contributes to one’s enjoyment of the book. The author manages to present events in a rather lighthearted fashion, with the result that, even though some very tragic events occur, the story is a joy to read.

I thoroughly enjoyed Silver. The writing was good, the dialogue was convincing, and the story was entertaining. Good book!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Berezina by J.E. van Embden

“People don’t want to know about the death and suffering. The wan to remember La Gloire – the magnificent uniforms, the great victories, the famous campaigns…people prefer the myth to the reality.”
Field Marshall Claude Victor, in Berezina

A few nights ago, as I flew back to the United States, Braveheart was one of the movies available to entertain us during the eighteen hour trip. I only watched a small part of it, but in that small part, I saw Sir William Wallace lead his rag-tag band of Scots against the English army. I watched as they cut and slashed and hammered at the English. I watched as the English fell, and I wanted to stand and cheer the Scots on to victory. How I wished I had been there with them!

This feeling is exactly what Marshall Victor was describing. It made no difference that men were suffering and dying, that husbands and fathers and sons would never return home. It was a glorious battle!

Berezina chronicles the death and suffering of war primarily through the eyes of Major Spijker, a Dutch soldier, Captain Kral, a German, Marshall Victor, and Major Demelle, both French, all of whom served Napoleon Bonaparte in his wars, specifically on his march into and his retreat from Russia. We see nobility and sacrifice. We see men who do their duty, who risk their lives. We see those who seek money and fame. We see those who are afraid. We see death, and we see life.

As Marshall Victor said, we all want to remember the glory of war. Berezina shows us the other side.

Berezina is exceptionally well-written. Even though I knew, in general, how the story must end since the outcome is familiar to all who have studied the history of Europe, my attention never lapsed. The author had me concentrate, not on the great events that were occurring, but on the individual soldiers who played parts in the outcome. The people come alive in the story, and I almost forgot that I was reading historical fiction, and I hoped for a better conclusion that the one that had to occur. This is high praise for a book of this genre. An excellent book! Five stars!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Imperfect Paradise by Dan Dembiczak

Sarah and Michael have been married for, maybe two hours, and she’s bored. Bored may not be quite the right word, but she’s disinterested, numb, perhaps. At her reception, her main concern is the wine.

Her new husband is not a bad person. He’s dense, perhaps, certainly not thoughtful, and directive, very directive.

The reader soon becomes very sympathetic to Sarah – and very angry at her husband. Maybe it was understandable that he fell asleep on their wedding night before she came to bed. After all, they’d been living together for several years and they spent the night at their home. Perhaps it was just another night following another party. Right.

It’s not just that he ignored her wish to honeymoon in Paris in favor of two weeks in Hawaii, an event he calls their “vacation” rather than their “honeymoon,” nor the that he made no arrangements for them to be welcomed to the island with lei, nor that he brought his golf clubs and proceeds to spend each day of their “vacation” on the course. It is all of these, taken together. I found him to be infuriating!

Sarah meets a handsome, young man who works the concierge desk at the hotel. He offers a private tour of the island on his day off. She is indecisive, but her husband tells her to go – he’ll be playing golf.

Several days into their “vacation,” Sarah finds a scrawny cat in the parking lot. She rubs the cat, who cries as she walks away. She never sees the cat again, although she brings food. She later finds that the cat has died. The reader sees the cat as a symbol of her marriage, perhaps.

Sarah tells the story. I love stories told in the first person, although, as an author, I would think it a rather difficult thing to do. The author, however, does it exceedingly well. I felt as if I were listening to Sarah’s soft voice as she describes her life and her feelings. The reader is drawn into Sarah’s mind, into her thoughts, her feelings, her world. We understand her attempts to cope with her husband’s behavior, and we share her sorrow when her attempts fail.

The book is very well-written, and you will not want to stop until you reach the end.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saving Toby by Suzanne Mckenna Link

One could build a library to house the romance novels in which a bad boy with a good heart is rescued from the darkness that surrounds him by a good girl who sees a diamond in the rough and who is willing to give up her dreams in the name of love. At first, it seems as if Saving Toby is simply the newest addition to this library.

Toby Faye is a stereotypical bad boy. The son of a dysfunctional family – his father took his own life and his brother is in prison upstate for murder – Toby has no direction in life. He likes beer, girls, and an occasional joint. His anger flares at the least provocation and fighting is always a possible response. He spent several months bumming around Florida, taking whatever job presented itself. He is at home as the book opens because his mother is recovering from recurrent cancer and needs assistance while she receives radiation and chemotherapy.

Claudia Chiametti is the opposite of Toby Faye. The daughter of a police officer, she studies hard, does well in school, is enrolled in college, and has direction to her life. She plans to study gerontology, perhaps at USC, and she is employed part-time at the local senior center. She knew Toby when they were in middle school, and they meet again when she accepts a second job, caring for his mother three afternoons each week.

In a typical story, Claudia would fall head over heels for Toby the day they met, and they would fall into bed together three pages later. Not in this book. One of the book’s strengths is Claudia’s character. She is not a starry-eyed little girl who is easily impressed by a cute smile and bulging biceps. Instead, she is assertive, self-confident, and she will not give up her dreams to please either boyfriend or her father. She knows what she wants from life, and she does not want guy like Toby Faye. She has standards, and even as she becomes attracted to him, sex is not a foregone conclusion.

Of course a romance develops, but it is so much more realistic than those we frequently encounter in novels. Their relationship moves from dislike, to thinking he is cute, to being attracted, to being willing to date him, and finally, to falling in love. It’s a sequence that most romantic relationships follow (perhaps omitting the very first step!). The reader can easily imagine that the story is based on fact.

The romantic scenes, too, are realistic. They grow out of the plot, and they advance the story. This is high praise for a romance, where such scenes are often seemed to be tossed into the story, almost at random, to maintain interest.

The plot is interesting, and the reader is never positive where it will go. I was surprised, even on the final page.The writing is excellent –the dialogue is believable, the descriptions are vivid. You will love this book. I’d give it a six out of five.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Other Side of the Window by S. Z. Berg

The Other Side of the Window tells the fascinating story of a young woman who battles the debilitating effects of a psychological disorder. It is an absorbing tale, very well-written, fast moving, and extremely enjoyable.

The story centers on Savannah, a reporter for a small-town newspaper who has an obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is told from her viewpoint, often in the first person.  It is difficult to write an entire book in this mode, but Berg succeeds. I cannot imagine that the story would have been nearly as effective nor as entertaining if told in any other way.

I wish that I could describe the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorders to my psychology students half as well as Berg presents them in her story. People today use “OCD” much too often and much too freely. They apply it to a person who wants the house to be in order or who wants some task to be performed in a certain way. Obsessive compulsive disorders are much more than this, and the author presents us with a vivid picture.

We watch Savannah, for example, as she repeatedly washes her hands, scrubs her body, opens doors with a paper towel, and consumes multiple glasses of wine, all to protect herself from germs. We see her perform actions in sets of threes. We see her standing in the ball field, repeatedly hitting the ball and running the bases because It insists that she do it. We see that Savannah is very aware that she has a disorder, and she desperately wishes that she could be different.

Toward the end of the book, the author makes it clear that she does not think highly of either psychotherapists or pharmaceutical companies, and she proposes an unconventional theory for the origin of at least some psychological disorders. While I do not necessarily accept her conclusions, she is quite right when she points out that we do not really understand the causes of disorders and that no form of therapy works for everyone.

Whether you are a psychologist, as I am, or whether you simply want a good, entertaining story, you will find it in The Other Side of the Window.

Monday, May 19, 2014

On Happy Endings

“….and they lived happily ever after.”
Can a fairy tale end in any other way? Can the beautiful girl ever be eaten by the wolf, remain under the power of the wicked sorcerer, or end her life in abject poverty without the love and support of the handsome prince? If there is such a tale, I’ve never read it.
Happily ever after is a principle enshrined in literature for generations. It was something on which a reader could count. In the end, the hero would always come out on top. The interest in happy endings carried over into film. No matter how dark the circumstances, the guy in the white hat would triumph, and the villain – dressed in black – would be vanquished.
Of course, not every story or play or book ended in the way we might want. Romeo and Juliet, and its modern incarnation, West Side Story, come to mind as a plays in which the heroes died. But, by and large, the reader or the viewer could plan on a happy ending.
At some point this all changed. Today, one never knows what evil awaits the hero, nor if the hero will be able to overcome it. It has been asserted that if writers want to be taken seriously, today, they must actually avoid happily ever after endings to their books.
I wonder if the modern disdain for happy endings comes from the pervasive cynicism that we see among the baby boomer generation. Boomers were born between nineteen forty-five and nineteen sixty-five and, in part because of their numbers, they have had a dramatic impact on American society.
As a baby boomer, myself, I might well ask why we are more cynical than were those who came before us.
Perhaps it is because, during our lifetimes, we have seen political figures shot in the streets (the Kennedys, Wallace, and Reagan). We have watched as our government prosecuted two wars – in Viet Nam and Iraq – which ultimately seemed to make no real sense. A sitting president tried to break into his opponent’s headquarters and then resigned from office. We have seen corrupt politicians, immoral public figures, and rampant corporate greed. We have witnessed mass murders.
All of these have been brought into our homes in full color by the news media who seem to believe that the right to show and tell everything is the same as an obligation to show and tell everything.
Life is not happy, many boomers have concluded. We don’t believe in fairy tales anymore and we’ve lost our confidence in happily ever after. Happy endings are so unrealistic as not to be believable.
Still, I like happy endings. When I read a novel, I am entering into another person’s world, perhaps at a different time in history, in a place I’ve never been. The hero may be doing things I’ve never done. I get to know the characters. I come to care about them. I do not want anything bad to happen to my hero.
If I want to feel depressed, I can tune in to CNN. The news this week focuses on chemical attacks in Syria. Hundreds of noncombatants have been killed. I can feel sad for people who I do not know and have never met.
When I open a novel, though, I am not reading the Times. I am reading neither an autobiography, nor an historical account. I do not want the author of my novel to draw me into the story, only to leave me feeling depressed, or sad, or angry. I may be reading the novel, in fact, to escape from the world around me. I want a happy ending.
Perhaps more important than a happy ending, however, is a satisfactory ending.
Alan Watt, in his book, The 90 Day Novel, writes that the hero of a story is attempting to get something that he wants – the girl, a new job, a blue ribbon. He also writes that the hero has a need, which is bigger than what he wants, and the hero believes that what he wants will satisfy the need. The boy who chases the girl may really need love, and he believes that she will love him. The one who looks for a new job may really need recognition and thinks that it will come with the position. Winning the blue ribbon may be an attempt to obtain the acceptance that the hero believes will follow an outstanding performance.
It seems to me that the hero must get what he wants if the story is to have a happy ending.
In some stories, the hero does not get what he wants – no happy ending – but he does find a way to satisfy his need. This is a recipe for a satisfactory ending.
In the motion picture, The Titanic, Rose is a young lady sailing to America where she will marry. Her family is forcing her into the marriage, and she does not care for her fiancé. Jack is a poor boy sailing to America to make a better life for himself. They fall in love and want to marry.
Had the story ended with their arrival in New York and their marriage, it would have had a happy ending. We would have assumed that they lived happily ever after.
However, the Titanic strikes an iceberg and the ship sinks. Jack dies in the icy water of the north Atlantic, while Rose is rescued. She eludes the family members and her fiancé who search for her among the survivors. She gives a false name to immigration officials. She begins a new life. She does the things that she and Jack had talked of doing. She marries, she has children and grandchildren. Although she always cherishes her memory of Jack, she has a good life.
What Rose needed was freedom – freedom from her parents, freedom from her fiancé, freedom to build her life as she wants it to be. During the voyage, marriage to Jack seemed like the path to satisfy her need. While she was not able to follow that particular path, she did find her freedom.
The ending was not happy, but it was satisfactory.
In one sense, a satisfactory ending is better than a happy one, because getting what one wants may provide only short-term happiness – marriage to Jack may not have been as wonderful as Rose imagined it would be. Getting what one needs provides continuing satisfaction – Rose was free for the rest of her life.

A story may have a happy ending. It may have a satisfactory ending. The very best stories have both.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Come Find Me by Travis Ward

Mark and Jessica met the summer they were sixteen. It was only for six weeks, and when Mark’s father was transferred they lost touch: the families moved, email accounts were changed, both of their fathers died in combat. Not hearing from her, he felt she no longer care for him. Not hearing from him, she felt he had abandoned her.

Ten years later, Mark tracks her down. Jessica lives in Dahlonega Georgia where she operates a wildlife rescue center and cares for her niece and nephew while their widowed mother works. When they meet, the attraction is instantaneous. Unfortunately, Jessica is engaged to be married.

This is the type of romance novel that I truly enjoy reading.

The story is believable and the characters are lovable. Jessica is just the type of girl a young man would like to date; Mark is the type of young man that everyone likes. So often in romances, the guy is a “bad boy,” and I find myself wanting to tell the woman to “turn and run, run fast, run far.” Not in this book. Here, the reader is pulling for them both to be happy.

The writing is excellent. The story is set in a small city in northern Georgia and the reader has the feeling that the author has lived there and knows the city and its people well. You can easily imagine the fiddlers on the square, the houses where the people live. The dialogue is realistic. The author does not resort to dialect (I hate dialect!) but still conveys a sense of place─ I knew I was in the rural South.

The love scenes are soft and sweet, and they arise from the story. Too often, in romance novels they are the reason for the story and all else revolves around them─ when in doubt, toss in sex. In this book, the romantic scenes make sense; the story leads up to them; they advance the plot; there is more to life than romance; there is more to romance than sex. The love scenes seem real, too. There are no wild, raunchy scenes and no explicit descriptions. (I tend to laugh when authors include too many details.)

Beyond presenting a good story, the book raises questions, important questions, in this case, questions about love and marriage. Jessica loves Blake, her fiancé. He is dependable; he is smart; she enjoys his company; he will take care of her. With Blake, love does not include passion. Jessica loves Mark. He is adventurous; knowledgeable; she enjoys his company. On the other hand, she has no idea what he might want to do two months into the future. Passion is a given when she is with Mark.

Can you love two people at once? Who would make a better husband?

It’s early in the year, but I feel certain that this book will be one of my favorites.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Conflict and Story

Conflict is central to drama…we are naturally drawn to charged moments both large and small. We are not drawn to what our hero had for breakfast, unless he is on death row and it is his last meal. Alan Watt, The 90 Day Novel

 The conflict that drives a story can be an internal conflict, reflecting the interplay of the hero’s multiple wants, desires, and motives, or it can be an external conflict, resulting when the hero’s attempt to obtain something that he wants is frustrated by the actions of someone else.

Psychologists often distinguish among three types of internal conflict: approach-avoidance, approach-approach, and avoidance-avoidance.

Approach –avoidance conflict occurs when an event, a thought, or an action both attracts and repels. There is something that I want. At the same time, I do not want it

I want to invest my money because my investment may increase in value. I do not want to invest my money because my investment may fail. I want to gallop through the novel that I am reading to discover how the story ends. I want to read slowly so that I prolong my enjoyment.

In my book, The Handfasting, Katherine and Steven are engaged to be married, but they have been separated for a decade. When Steven finds her, Katherine wants to see him, wants to fall in love again, wants to pick up their romance where they left off ten years before.

But, “You don’t know anything about him,” her roommate tells her. “He was a painter when you knew him. Maybe he’s a starving artist, looking for someone to support him.”

Has he changed? Katherine wonders.  Will he be as nice, as handsome, as interesting as funny as he was before? Should I meet him for dinner? I want to see him; I’m afraid to see him.

An approach-approach conflict exists when there are multiple alternatives, and each one is attractive. I want to pursue them all, but I am able to choose only one.

I can go to the ball game or the party, but not both. I can read this book or that one, but not both, not at the same time.

Steven and Katherine meet one summer as they travel in England. They fall in love and they want to marry. They are young; Katherine is only eighteen, just out of high school. She wants to be a doctor. Years of school are ahead. Steven is an artist. He may go to graduate school. Years of school are ahead. They want to marry. They want to finish school. They cannot do both at the same time.

An avoidance-avoidance conflict arises when one has multiple options, but none is attractive. You want to avoid them all. “Pay the fine or go to jail,” the judge says.

Bill Wilson is a friend of Katherine’s family, and her mother wants Katherine to treat him nicely. Katherine despises Bill, but she does not want to disappoint her mother. Two options – neither is good.

In the central conflict that drives the story, Katherine is presented with a choice, and she has multiple options. It would be a spoiler if I were to be specific concerning the choice, but I can tell you that her decision will color all that she does for the remainder of her life. None of her alternatives is good. Avoidance-avoidance.

External conflicts are interpersonal conflicts. Two people want the same thing. Only one of them can be successful,

Steven wants to marry Katherine. He has waited for her for a decade. They are in love. Bill Wilson wants to marry Katherine. He has known her since childhood. He needs a wife and Katherine fits the bill. Only one man can have her.

Alan Watt indicates that conflict is central to our stories. He tells his readers – aspiring writers - to put their characters in relationships with other characters and see what will happen. Conflict, he writes, will ensue

Without conflict, a story lacks a driving force. It lacks interest. Where is the suspense? Where is the fear that the hero will have her plans thwarted, her hopes dashed? Where is the relief when a satisfactory ending occurs?

In a book I read over the summer, the seeds of conflict are planted in abundance, but none matures. Never is there any question in the reader’s mind as to whether the ending will be happy, whether it will be exactly as the hero plans.

And I yawned.

Without conflict, a story is bland, like store-bought white bread or hospital food. We all want lives without conflict, and most of us manage to make it through with few serious problems. However, few of our autobiographies would be best sellers!

Without conflict, the story becomes a simple account of events, strung one after the other, without direction or purpose. Conflict makes the story.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Instant Love

I’ve just completed Katherine Lowry’s fantastic book, The Last MacKlenna. Set primarily on a horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky, the story revolves around Meredith Montgomery, owner of a winery in Napa Valley, and Elliot Fraser, who raises thoroughbred horses. They meet at a B&B in Scotland two days before Christmas, are immediately attracted to each other, and quickly fall in love. It’s a common pattern: boy meets girl; they fall in love; they fall into bed, and shortly-by Boxing Day in this case-they are on the path to happily ever after (although Meredith actually takes a bit longer to completely trust the handsome Scotsman).

I addition to being an author (The Handfasting and The Reunion) I review books for the Kindle Book Review. Many of the books I receive are Romance novels, and, as I have reviewed books over the past year, I have found that the almost “instant love” that I observed in The Last MacKlenna is really the norm.

In Dunham by Mariah Jovan, another excellent book that I recently reviewed, Celia and Elliott, privateers who prey on British ships during the American Revolution, meet in a bar on a Caribbean island. A few weeks later, following a battle with the British navy, they find their ships together in calm waters. Elliot sneaks aboard her ship, through the window of her cabin, and into her heart. Four days later, as the winds again begin to blow, they are in love.

In a third book, Until I Met You by Annette Evans, a girl and boy in their late teens meet, sleep together and decide to wed in the space of a week – and the girl’s parents are happy about the proposed marriage! While not all Romances follow this pattern – mine don’t follow it in all respects - I could cite many that do.

This instant attraction certainly moves the action along, and it leaves plenty of time to develop other elements of the plot, but is it realistic? Is love instantaneous? Is it simple chemistry? Do Cupid’s arrows pierce our hearts and cause us to swoon?

When I am not writing or reading, I am a psychology professor. (Yes, I stay busy.) When my classes discuss the topic of interpersonal attraction, one explanation I offer is reinforcement theory, a theory which suggests that love is learned. You get to know another person, spend time with him, perhaps date him, and you learn that the two of you are similar. You learn that you enjoy the same activities, that you think in similar ways, that you have similar goals in life. And you fall in love.

Learning takes time! Falling in love takes time!

Isn’t this your experience? It has certainly been mine. I might have been attracted by her blond hair and blue eyes (sorry, brunettes), but love? Even with the girl I married, falling in love took more than the long weekend in a snow storm at the top of a mountain!

If the image of love that we find in books is so unrealistic, why do authors continue to present it? Why do readers continue to buy into it?

We buy into it because we want it to be true.

We want it to be true, first, because no one really wants to delay gratification.

If you have ever spent time with children, you know that they want immediate gratification. They care nothing about rules. They care nothing for the laws of physics, the constraints imposed by reality. They want what they want, when they want it, and they want it NOW. A child may want a particular kind of candy sold only in a shop on a side street in London, eight hours away by air, but the child wants it now!

Our lives, today, are on fast-forward. We never want to wait. We use email or we text; we do not post letters. We pull into the drive-through at Starbucks; we do not wait in line. We Google for information rather thumb though a book. We click for movies on demand rather than drive to a theater. We want instant information, instant service, instant contact. We also want instant love.

We want it to be true, second, because life would be less painful if it were true. We do not enjoy the “process” of falling in love.

Who really enjoys dating? Wondering if he will call; wondering if she will answer. Trying to decipher the other person’s feelings. We panic when he flirts with another girl, when she smiles at another boy. Adults who find themselves alone after many years consider dating, and their stomachs turn. Would it not be preferable simply to lock eyes with someone across the room, and to live happily ever after?

We would so like for love to be immediate. It would be convenient; it would fit our lifestyles so well. It would be so pleasant if love could be found as rapidly as we brew coffee in a Keurig, if we could fast forward through the emotional ups and downs, if eHarmony could guarantee a perfect the match on the first try, if Cupid aimed his arrows at the boy and the girl, the man and the woman, at the same moment in time.

Some people criticize stories with instant love as examples of simple escapism. They argue that we need to confront the world as it truly is rather than wallowing in sentimentalism.

On the other hand, books exist, at least in part, to take us away from the routine activities of our lives, from “the squalor of the real world,” as they sing in Evita. Books enable us to imagine doing thing we could never do, being people we could never be, having adventures that could never happen, visiting times and places in which we do not live. We experience other people’s lives and see the world through their eyes. We are able, through the people in our books, to experience life, love, and adventure as we feel that they “should” be, as we wish they were.

We know that the easy, fall-in-love-in-two-days stories are unrealistic. But we don’t care. When we pick up a Romance, we willingly suspend our disbelief in such things, we lose ourselves in the story, and we experience, for a short time, life as we would like it to be.

And this is good.

So, choose a Romance, and lose yourself in the story. Escape for a while! Imagine yourself as one lead, your spouse or your steady as the other.

And fall in love. Or fall in love again.

Monday, March 31, 2014

On Sequels

It has been several years, now, but I well remember reading Game of Thrones. I read it slowly because I was enjoying the story. Even though I very much wanted to find out what would happen, I was reluctant to hurry through it, preferring to stretch my enjoyment over as long a period of time as possible.

It was a long book! The Starks of Winterfell were the good guys and the Lassiters were evil. I loved Danny, the woman who birthed the dragons. I was appalled when Edard was executed, and I was excited when his kingdom, the entire North, in fact, rose against the evil king. I turned the pages looking for their victory. I imagined ways in which Edard’s younger daughter might recue her sister from the clutches of the enemy. I hoped that Jon would leave the Wall and go south…

The book ended, and multiple crises were left unresolved.

There was, however, a sequel.

If you are at all familiar with Game of Thrones, you know that there are a host of sequels. I read only a few pages of the second book, and I suspect that I would have been no more satisfied at the end of it than I was at the end of the first.

I have a love-hate relationship with sequels.

A sequel, as we all know, is a book that continues the story or the theme that first appeared in another book. There are at least three forms that a sequel may take, three ways in which a second book – or a third, fourth, or fifth book - may be related to the original.

 Brand New Story

 Sometimes a sequel is a completely different story from the one in the original book. The original story is over. It is complete, and it can be read and enjoyed on its own, without the sequel. Readers, in fact, are often surprised when the sequel hits the shelves in the bookstores.

The sequel, in turn, is also a complete, independent story that can be enjoyed on its own. It generally occurs later in time than the original. Typically, it revolves around the same characters – or some of them. The sequel, however, is not a direct continuation of the original story. It does not pick up the day after the original ended. Although reading the original might enhance one’s enjoyment of the sequel, having read it is not essential since the sequel supplies any important background information. One has the impression that the author completed the first book and then thought, Well, I have another story to tell…

Nicholas Sparks’s book, The Wedding, is generally acknowledged to be a sequel to The Notebook. The first book is about Noah and Allie, how they met, how they fell in love, how they died. The Wedding is about Jane, their daughter, and her husband, Winston. Noah appears in both books, although he is a central character only in the first. The Wedding tells a different story concerning the same family.

In this type of sequel, the books stand alone. Each book is satisfactory in and of itself.

 Tell me more, Tell me more…

 The first book can stand alone. At its end, the story is complete, and the reader needs no more information in order to enjoy the book.

The sequel, on the other hand is closely tied to the original, very dependent on it, and cannot be understood or enjoyed if the first book has not been read. While the first book can be enjoyed without the sequel, the sequel makes no sense without the original.

Gone with the Wind and Rhett Butler’s People are an example of this type of sequel. At the conclusion of Gone with the Wind, Rhett walks away, leaving Scarlet, disappearing into the foggy Atlanta night. Rhett Butler’s People was written some eighty years later as one attempt to tell what happened next. It involves some of the same characters, as well as many new ones. It is set after the war although there are flashbacks to earlier events.

Millions of people had read and enjoyed Gone with the Wind long before even the idea of the sequel was born. A reader, however, could not enjoy Rhett Butler’s People unless she knew the story of Gone with the Wind.

Bethany Claire’s book, Love Beyond Time, and its sequel, Love Beyond Reason, follow this pattern. Love Beyond Time has a satisfactory ending, but a reader would be lost if she attempted to read Love Beyond Reason first.

Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone can be enjoyed with no knowledge of the remainder of the series. The Deathly Hallows, however, makes no sense without an understanding of the story contained in the other six books.

 A Never-Ending Story

 Today, many sequels seem to be planned in advance. The first book often concludes with a “cliff hanger,” a twist in the plot designed to hook the reader and obligate her to dive into the sequel in order to obtain closure. The sequel picks up immediately where the previous book ended, and neither book is complete without the other; neither can be enjoyed without the other.

The Hunger Games is, at heart, the love story of Katniss and Peeta. They find themselves participants in a “game” in which contestants publicly battle to the death and in which there can be but a single winner. Their love, so obvious to the millions who are watching the contest, forces the government to accept them both as victors. As they return home - in the final pages of the book - Katniss tells Peeta that her show of love was simply an act that was designed to assure that they both would survive. The reader knows, immediately that a sequel is around the corner. The Hunger Games has no satisfactory ending. Neither it, nor its sequel, nor the second sequel can be read alone. One must read all three books in order to enjoy the story.

No single book in Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy is satisfactory by itself.The Game of Thrones series is another example. My wife reached the fifth book, and she is no closer to anticipating the ending than I was after reading the first.

 I love sequels of the first two types!

When I enjoy a book, I frequently find myself constructing sequels, imagining what might happen next, what crises might occur, who might fall in love with whom. At the end of December, I completed Dunham, an excellent book by Mariah Jovan. I thought about the book for days, imagining various scenarios involving several of the characters.

When I truly enjoy a book, I am happy when I find that the author has enjoyed it, too. When I like the characters enough to create additional plot lines, I am excited to find that the author has chosen to do the same thing. When I want to know more, I am pleased when the author chooses to tell me more.

I object to sequels of the third type.

When I reach the last few pages of a book, only to discover a new twist in the plot, one that cannot possibly be resolved in the space that remains, I feel cheated! I purchased the book in good faith, expecting to enjoy the story and the experience of reading it. I should not have to read a second or third book, or more, in order to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

This pattern occurs so frequently, today, that marketing plans are built around it. When the sequel is published, one of the books will be offered free, the author knowing that anyone who wants to enjoy either book must also purchase and read the other one.

So, as I said, I have a love-hate relationship with sequels. “A Brand New Story”? Bring it on! “Tell me more, tell me more”? Bring it on! “A Never Ending Story”? Don’t even let me start the first book!


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

He Belongs to Me by Theresa Rizzo

 I've enjoyed two of Theresa Rizzo's books. I like them both, but this one is the better one! 

Catherine and Thomas married when Catherine was about four months pregnant with twins. They lived with Catherine’s parents for a while in their Chicago mansion. One of the children is sickly, he dies, and Thomas is accused of murder. Even though he is exonerated, they part ways. He has a scholarship to college in Michigan. At her father’s insistence, Catherine leaves her son with her parents and enrolls at Stanford. Four years later, Catherine has completed college. Her parents and son come for graduation. She is expecting her son to be moving to California to live with her, but he arrives with a single suitcase. Her parents have decided to retain custody Catherine finds Thomas, they reunite, and they set about winning custody of their son. Before the chapter ends, you love Catherine, and you despise her parents. Your feelings never really change. 

You will not believe the twists in the plot, the extent to which her parents will go to retain custody of the child, the final arguments in court. The story caught my attention early in the first chapter and never let me go. 

Rizzo seemed to understand how a man would feel in this situation. She ably describes Thomas’s feelings – his anger at losing his wife and child, his hesitancy to love Catherine again and to allow her to return to his life, his antipathy toward Catherine’s family.  

The book is well-written. The narrative flows well. The story of Catherine’s and Thomas’s love permeates the story and you long for a happy ending. 

I have conflicting feelings when I read a book like this. I find myself caught up in the story, so I rush to complete it. I find myself enjoying the story so much, that I don’t want it to end! I read He Belongs to Me in late 2013. I was completely blown away! It was the very best book that I read that entire year.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dunham by Mariah Jovan

My Review

The strength of the story is character of Celia. Known as Captain Jack or Captain Fury as she stands on the deck of her ship, she is an American privateer, preying on British ships during the final years of the American Revolution. She is all that you might expect a pirate to be: dangerous, lusty, always in command of those around her.

She is more complex than this picture, though. The same woman who decapitated her former captain as she led a mutiny against him also giggles like a teen-ager as she reads bawdy passages from a novel. The daughter of a high-ranking British navy officer, she plunders and sinks British ships, killing men without hesitation; she protects cabin boys against a predatory captain. She will lie to attain her goals, and she sings the Hallelujah Chorus from the deck of her ship as three pirate crews hang on every note and the sun rises over the ocean. She has a degree in mathematics, and she sails into battle stripped to the waist, scars covering her body from a flogging she once received for refusing to cut her hair.

As we learn about her, we find that he same person can be good and bad, kind and cruel, full of love and full of hate. We read of piracy, murder, naval battles, and intrigue. We discover that one’s behavior may stem from multiple motivations, that love is a complicated emotion, and that our explanations for events are not always accurate.

Be warned -this is a long book, over seven hundred pages. Reading on a Kindle, I had not known its length when I began! My feeling is that the story could have been told well in fewer words.

The first part of the book – the first of four sections - consumes approximately four days, which Celia and Elliott spent primarily in bed. The descriptions of their activities are extended and detailed. While we do learn details of their lives and some about the life of a privateer during the American Revolution, I found little purpose to this section, other than to establish, in current American thought, a basis for their love. I almost gave up halfway through the section.

However, the real story begins in part two, with the real meat in parts three and four. In these sections, the story grabs you and moves forward. There is action and suspense. I found myself reading all afternoon, anxious to discover what would happen. The story is captivating; the writing is excellent. I highly recommend it!


Monday, March 10, 2014

It is the Story that Counts

It was once said that elevators would replace stairs.
Why would they not? After all, elevators provide faster access than do stairs, are more efficient than are stairs, and cause less stress to the human body than do stairs. Why would one choose to tromp up a long flight of stairs instead of stepping into an elevator and being whisked away to another floor?
Of course, it didn’t happen. We have elevators, we have stairs, and we have escalators –moving stairs. They co-exist, each serving the same purpose, that of moving people and things from one floor, one level, to another.
We have all read the speculation that Ereaders – Kindles, and Nooks, and iPads – will ultimately replace books. Indeed, sales of Ereaders have soared while bookstores have closed.
The writer who reported the early speculation about elevators, however, asserted that the demise of the printed book is as unlikely as the demise of stairs.
Now, argument by analogy is a tricky business. No analogy is perfect, and it may well be that the suggested link between the future of books and the future of stairs will not hold. Modern inventions have, in fact, replaced many of the things we formerly used.
We write on paper, not papyrus. We pull plows with tractors, not horses. We fly across the Atlantic rather than sail. Cars have replaced carriages, digital has all but replaced film, clocks have replaced sun dials, and my wife maintains that cell phones are replacing wrist watches.
The question of whether books have a future was brought home to me a few weeks ago when it was announced that a Books A Million store in our city was closing, leaving just three full service book stores in a metropolitan area of over 785,000 people. Only a year earlier, there had been six stores in the city.
Nevertheless, I tend to believe that Ereaders will not completely replace books.
I take this position as one whose wife gave him a Kindle Fire last August as an anniversary present. Amazon identifies it as “David’s Fifth Kindle,” (although two of the five actually have belonged to my wife). I have used a Kindle since shortly after I first read about them in the New York Times. I love my Kindle and the ability it gives me to take a single volume on vacation, rather than having to choose between three or four thick, heavy books and the second pair of shoes that I really need for river rafting.
Ereaders are terrific for straight reading, when you start on page one and read directly to the end. I review books for The Kindle Book Review. Last fall, I sped through each volume on my Kindle. It was great!
Yet, there are situations in which I prefer a book, a printed book.
Some texts are complicated. Financial Intelligence, a book I’m currently reading, describes how to understand and use various financial documents. For the chapter on how to read a balance sheet, there is a sample balance sheet – in the appendix. When the text discusses “cash on hand,” for example, I turn to the appendix to see how “cash on hand” actually appears in a balance sheet.
With a book, I’d stick a piece of paper – or my right index finger – at the appendix and flip back and forth as needed. With my Kindle, I bookmark the page in the appendix. To consult it, I tap the top of my screen to access a menu. I choose “Bookmarks,” locate the correct bookmark, and touch it. To return to the text, I touch the arrow at the bottom. In the next paragraph, the text discusses “depreciation,” and I repeat the process. It is as complicated in practice as it is in my description. Thumbs and sheets of paper work much better!
Have you ever looked at images, charts, or tables in an Ereader? My Kindle Fire produces beautiful color images. But they are small. Have you ever tried to follow the flow of a line graph across a screen? When I do find the balance sheet in the appendix, can I even read the entries? I have to touch the screen to enlarge the image and touch it again when I have finished with it. Give me a book any day!
When I read Mariah Jovan’s book, Dunham, I read it straight through. On one occasion, though, I had forgotten the significance of a particular character and had to page back to find who he was. It was not fun – flipping backwards, having to remember my location in the book rather than marking it, locating the reference, then selecting “go to” in the menu and typing in the location when I was ready to read again. I can imagine reading a technical work, something difficult to understand – Steven Hawkins’s book, A Brief History of Time comes to mind – and having to frequently page back to find a previous reference. Lost is an understatement. Ereaders are not optimized for this activity.

Finally, if the book is something that I want to keep, I want it printed on paper. I have the Book of Common Prayer on my Kindle, and I pretty much read in it six days a week (I hear it read on Sunday). My prayer book, though, is on a table beside my chair in the den; the copy on my Kindle is simply for convenience.
I have published two books, both of which are available on Ereaders (The Reunion and, recently, The Handfasting) and in print. I have copies of them both on my Kindle, but I assure you, printed copies can be found on the desk in my office. I love Greek icons, and I have books with reproductions of numerous images. I want these on paper where I can page through them slowly, enjoying their beauty, finding meaning in the details, something that would likely be impossible on my Kindle.

We know that technological innovations can be fleeting. In a decade, will .mobi files be readable on any device? Have you heard an eight-track tape recently? How about TRS-DOS, the operating system once used by Radio Shack’s computers? Paper survives. Today’s digital files? Maybe.

It is true. Ereaders may replace books. I’m thinking that they won’t, but in the end, does it really matter?
Children’s author Eric Carle once told a reporter, "I like to hold books and touch them. But in the future, who knows? When they invented papyrus, someone probably said, ‘Storytelling was so good. Why did we have to go and put it on papyrus?’ But one thing doesn't change: It's the story that counts. The medium doesn't matter."*
“It’s the story that counts.” Well said.


*USA Today, November 14, 2013


Monday, March 3, 2014

Just Destiny by Theresa Rizzo

My Review

Jenny’s husband, Gabe, dies as he pushes her from the path of an oncoming truck. They have been happily married for two years, and Jenny has just discovered that she is pregnant. It was an unintentional pregnancy. Gabe has two college-age children from his first marriage, and, at the time of their marriage, he and Jenny had both denied any interest in having children. As Gabe lies in the hospital, Jenny miscarries.

When her husband is declared to be brain dead, Jenny is called on to make decisions. She must decide whether to disconnect Gabe from life support. She is asked to donate his organs. Even though he was a physician, he left no directives.

Jenny consents to removing him from life support. She donates all of his organs that can be used. She asks that his sperm be collected so that she can be artificially inseminated and have his child, even though he has died.

Jenny finds that people have strong feelings concerning her plans, and the author does an excellent job as she presents an array of reactions. Nearby sperm banks refuse to accept the sperm because her brain dead husband had not given his consent to have them stored. Gabe’s uncle objects to the termination of life support, to organ donation, and to the collection of Gabe’s sperm. He sues to prevent Jenny from being inseminated. The press senses a sensational story. She has difficulty finding an attorney who will represent her. Steve, her next door neighbor who has had a crush on Jenny since she and Gabe moved in, finds the idea of insemination to be disgusting. In contrast, Jenny’s mother and Judith, Gabe’s first wife, are totally supportive.

As the case unfolds in court, family secrets are revealed. Jenny ultimately must decide if she really wants a child or whether she wants a child simply as a means to hang on to her husband.

Although it would never have occurred to me that Jenny’s plan would have caused her any difficulty at all, I ultimately understood some of the negative reactions, although I did not sympathize with them. Gabe’s uncle still strikes me as a vindictive, bitter old man. Steve still seems to me to be an insensitive, insecure clod! I somehow do not believe that the author intended me to feel this way about Steve, but I’m just saying…When you finish the book you will unerstand!

Just Destiny is an excellent book! It is well-written and so believable, an absorbing story, one that is difficult to put down. The conclusion is satisfactory, although I would have preferred a different ending.

Theresa Rizzo’s first book He Belongs to Me, was outstanding. In Just Destiny, she has another winner!


Monday, February 24, 2014

Truth in Reading


What is truth? Pilate asked Jesus.

It is one of the greatest questions with which philosophers and theologians grapple. It is also a question that we should consider any time that we reach for a book.

“Is the story true?” we should ask. “Did it truly happen?” “Is it based on fact, or did it totally spring from the author’s imagination?” “Does it offer us any insight into the nature of our world, or is it solely an attempt at escapism?”

On some occasions the answers come easier than they do on others. In any case, though, there are three types of “truth” for which we might search when reading a book.

First, there is what we might call “literal truth.” An event is literally true if it really happened just as it’s described. It is what we hope to find when reading a newspaper, a biography, a memoir, or a history book.

Second, there is “embellished truth.” An event truly occurred, but not in exactly the way that it seems in the book. For example, in historical fiction, the events that are recounted truly occurred, but the specific characters are not historical, or perhaps, a character was historical, but the author supplies dialogue of which there is no record.

We find embellished truth when a real event is altered in part. The alteration might occur, to protect the participants, or perhaps the alteration helps the event to better fit into the story. Perhaps the event occurred in the author’s life, and it seems in the story, happening to one of the characters. We find embellished truth when the characters behave in ways that are consistent with a particular period in history. That is, the things they do are things that might well have happened in the circumstances that are described.

Finally, “philosophical truth” refers to the meaning that an event has. Does it tell us something true and important about a character? Does it convey some ultimate truth about humanity in general?

Consider the following excerpt from my new book, The Handfasting.

He actually had proposed, once. It was when men were being drafted into the army to fight in Vietnam. The rules were changing, and he’d discovered that he couldn’t be drafted if he got married within the next four weeks. A friend of his had done just that, and Bill made the suggestion to Melissa, partly in jest, partly not. He was shocked when she’d agreed, but she gave him two conditions. First, she would not be married in name only. After pausing to let him consider the full meaning of her words, she said that Bill would have to explain things to her father. “I’m guessing you’ll be safer in the army than you would be talking to Daddy the morning after our wedding night,” she had told him.

She was probably right—Bill had no wish to tangle with Melissa’s father. He enrolled in college and generally managed a C average. When he came up short—three times in four years—his uncle sat on the county’s draft board, and he managed to keep Bill out of the army.

We find all three types of truth in this passage.

It is literally true that in the nineteen-sixties, men whom were married could not be conscripted into the United States Army. The policy was altered in the middle of that decade, but the new policy did not apply to men who married before the date of its implementation.

It is literally true, that conscription could be avoided while one was enrolled in college and making satisfactory
grades. Finally, it is literally true that each county or parish in the country had a board that selected those who actually would be
called into service, and those boards had some discretion in who they called.

The passage is an example of embellished truth only because Bill and Melissa were not real people. Bill’s behavior, however, was very real. Men did propose marriage to avoid having to serve in the army. (My older brother jokingly suggested that he might do exactly

Since Bill was fictional, so, of course, was his uncle, but board members did prevent their sons, their nephews, and sons of their friends from being called into service.

In each case, the characters behaved as some people truly behaved when they found themselves in similar circumstances

The excerpt is an example of philosophical truth because it highlights certain aspects of Bill’s character. It highlights characteristics that we see time and again throughout the book. He is self-centered. He’s only interested in his own good. He tries to get what he wants, even if someone else is hurt in the process. This set of characteristics is not unique to Bill. Many of us have known people like him.

We should always consider the truth in the books that we read, the literal truths as well as the other types. All three are important. We should learn to distinguish among them and to appreciate all of them.