Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Downside of Good Reviews

Who knew there was one, right? But we writers spend way too much time in our heads. Even when we're thinking about made-up characters, we're really thinking about ourselves. Totally self-indulgent.

The Beresfords has had a good run. This morning I woke to it being chosen by Austenesque Reviews as one of the Best of 2012 (tied for Best Modern Adaptation)! Wow. Considering the literally gazillion Austen prequels, sequels, spin-offs, meditations, short stories, and retellings, I am thrilled my poor Frannie got this kind of recognition. She would be blushing and hiding behind the speaker's podium, I imagine.
Nice badge, huh? No idea how to make these, or I would already have had one.
And seeing my book crowned and be-ribboned was frosting on the holiday cake after it was written up in the mothership of Austen blogs, Austenprose. The reviewer there, apart from finding Caroline Grant's manner of speaking stilted, declared, "I would rank The Beresfords with some of the best Austen updates I’ve ever read or seen." She found "every moment feels fresh and new," and the ending "made [her] heart pound and tears run down [her] face."

What can a writer do in response to this approbation except look at her current works in progress and decide they're lousy?

I've peaked. It's over. The mountain I climbed was quite the molehill, in comparison to the Writers of Great Books, but it might have been all I had in me. If I've written my Little Women, is all that is left Jo's Boys?

Really, if you saw the state of my three WIPs, you would be concerned.

(1) I've got the woman who ditches her family and runs off to Rome mired in Chapter 8. Molly is literally wandering around the Villa Borghese having no idea where to go next. Yikes.

(2) I've got my college couple more successfully to Chapter 16, where they're trapped in a never-ending dinner party.

(3) I've got the Regency romance I started on a whim because of my writer's block with the college couple. Pure froth and fun--everything I loved about Trollope and Marion Chesney and Austen and Georgette Heyer all rolled into one, but shouldn't I be working on something more serious?

No idea. At least on Goodreads The Beresfords has garnered some three-stars and a "The main heroine was really boring and the book seemed ultra conservative and a bit too preachy for me." I can work with that. When plenty of people really disliked Everliving, I felt I could surely do better. (Remember "I know, I can't believe I read this either. I only got about 2/3 of the way through it before vomiting on my Kindle"?)

I'm not retiring yet. This is just writerly, self-indulgent navel-gazing. For having taken the time to listen/read, I do have something substantive to say. A book review, of a book I didn't write. Take a look, if you're a history and 18th-century lover:

 How to Create the Perfect Wife by Wendy Moore
(4 of 5 stars on Goodreads, rounded up from 3.5 stars)

A most peculiar and particular history of a well-connected and wealthy 18th century man who, influenced by Rousseau's EMILE, had dreams of grooming the perfect wife. As part of this dream, the man "adopted" two orphans from the Foundling Hospital as supposed apprentices and proceeded to mold them.

I enjoyed parts of this book, especially where Sabrina's (the main foundling) and Thomas Day's story intersected with well-known contemporaries (Erasmus Darwin, Maria Edgeworth, the Burneys, Ben Franklin), and where Moore traced the literary aftermath of the story in fiction.

Moore's publisher has certainly figured out the marketing plan, with the book cover set to suck in all those Austen and Georgette Heyer lovers, but ultimately the story falls short of fictional treatments for several reasons: (1) the on-again, off-again experiment--the most interesting part of the book--only comes into play for an unexpectedly small percentage of it; (2) as a work of history, Moore is limited to her material--what this reader most wanted to know, how Sabrina and Day interacted and what they had to say to each other, could only be guessed at or inferred from mentions long after the fact; and, (3) the book is loaded with hard-to-love characters and detailed backstories.

Having recently read the nonfiction UNNATURAL SELECTION by Mara Hvistendahl, detailing the current gender imbalance in parts of the world and its implications, I realized the male dream of finding the "perfect wife" lives on. Even now men in China import poor, uneducated Vietnamese brides, and some American men look for women around the world who will take on the housework, listen and obey--just as Day wanted his foundling to do. The kidnapping and exploitation continue. At least Day provided his victim with a heavy-duty education, I suppose.

If you're looking for the historical equivalent of an Austen novel, this is not it. But if you love 18th century history and literature that intersects with an intriguing situation, you will find much to enjoy here.

P.S. Having read a NetGalley ARC, I assume final tweaks can still be made to the manuscript. In "Sabrina and Lucretia" chapter, sentence "Passengers unerringly complained of feeling seasick" should probably be "Passengers INVARIABLY complained of feeling seasick." Further on in chapter, sentence beginning, "Naturally Day did not mention of [sic] the single most interesting aspect..." should be "Naturally Day did not MAKE mention of the single most interesting aspect." Also, I understand the rationale for giving each chapter female names, but sometimes they were a stretch: "Elizabeth," for example.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, run with the woman stuck in the Villa Borghese, but change her name. Molly just seems too much an American Girl Doll person. On the other hand, if I were named Molly and had only American Girl Dolls to play with and then made the "ideal" marriage and family, I might run off to Rome.