Review: All the Missing Girls

In literature, there’s a distinction between concept and gimmick. A concept is an overarching idea or structure that makes a novel unique and memorable, while a gimmick is a cheap hook designed to get the reader’s attention.

Megan Miranda’s 2016 novel has an intriguing structure — after the opening chapters sets the scene, introduces the characters, and presents the complication, the plot then progresses two weeks in reverse, each chapter devoted to the day before its previous. It’s a concept rooted in the philosophical belief, introduced in the novel by a quote from Kierkegaard: life must be understood backwards.

This concept only works if details are presented fairly — in other words, if a character uncovers information in day eight, that character should know that information three chapters earlier in day eleven. Unfortunately, the concept doesn’t work in the novel; too many times, I couldn’t help thinking if a character knew what we later learned she already knew, her later actions would be different. In other words, the structure of “All the Missing Girls” is more a gimmick than concept.

Which is unfortunate, because it is an engaging mystery, with characters who are likable because of their flaws. Nicolette, the first-person narrator, struggles to discover the fate of two missing friends while also coming to terms with her own past. The men in her life — her current boyfriend (Everett), former lover (Tyler), and brother (Daniel) — offer their assistance, yet also provide significant obstacles to her search. The author’s metaphors can be memorable at times (“People were like Russian nesting dolls — versions stacked inside the latest edition.”), and her suspenseful scenes are true page-turners. Miranda is a talented author, and I would definitely consider reading her subsequent novels.

I just wish “All the Missing Girls” had been told in a conventional format. Unfortunately, its gimmicky structure is a distraction.

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Good and Tired

Made myself get up early on a Sunday and work on my revision of chapter 8. Completed the first of four new scenes that will appear in the middle of that chapter. After I’m done with those, then it’s on to minor revisions of the chapter’s beginning, then major revisions, including one more new scene, to its conclusion.

Yeah, it was hard to drag my ass out of bed this morning, and there’s something to be said for getting adequate rest. But I can’t be afraid of being tired. The image of the leisurely writer, composing at ease while sipping a cool drink, is a dangerous myth that I’ve too easily fallen for. If the only way to make this career work is to be good and tired, then fire up the coffee maker.

NaNoWriMo 2018

For a number of reasons I may (or not) explain at some point, I haven’t been blogging lately. I’m hoping that, with this new fiction project I’m announcing today, I’ll be posting here more often.

For NaNoWriMo 2018, I’ll be updating the eighth chapter of my fencing novel, Gray Metal Faces. Those updates will be made on a separate, private blog, and I’ll be posting updates on my progress here.

Been a while since I’ve committed to a project of this size, and with my other obligations (in other words, all the things that have kept me from blogging) I’m not sure how I’m going to pull this off. But today isn’t about worrying. It’s enough to state my intention, and let this announcement serve as inspiration to find a way to get this job done.

Natural Conversation

When is she coming?

“As soon as she arrives,” I tell the seashells.

Will we control her again?

“Don’t be silly — we cannot control anything,” I remind the sponges.

Then how can we be sure she’ll do as we wish?

“Do you look at her as she manicures us?” I ask the driftwood. “There is joy in her face.”

But what makes her work so hard on our behalf?

I sigh at their lack of understanding. “Because it’s in her nature.”

PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest that’s a whole mess of fun

One Man’s Garbage

Gabfrab writes an irregularly recurring series of first-person tales about a homeless hedonist in Austin Texas. His latest story is about a racoonish search for food that, shall we say, doesn’t come out right. The ending reminded me of my youthful days assembling models of rocket ships in my family’s basement; took me years to realize why working with rubber cement made me feel so content.

Recharging the future

As the number of electric vehicles and other battery-operated machines increases, one significant question remains largely unanswered — what will happen to these batteries after they are no longer usable?

There’s general agreement that batteries, with their efficient yet toxic mix of minerals and chemicals, are not good candidates for landfills. Ideas are being pursued to re-use car batteries as stationary energy sources for charging stations and low-power devices such as street lights, but even optimistic estimates grant another decade or two of use for the batteries. Harvesting the battery components is certainly possible, although there is debate over the cost effectiveness of this process. In other words, by around 2030 there could be an enormous amount of batteries that will be neither usable nor disposal.

Or perhaps not. Industrialists, who tend to look at the profitability rather than environmental impacts of issues, see the income potential in the battery disposal/recycling market, if for no other reason than having plenty of material on hand. And while national governments in recent years have backed away from alternative energy investment, voters remain committed to the technology. My gut feeling is that within four or five years, innovative solutions will be developed to lessen, although not eliminate, the impact these dying batteries will have on the environment and the economy. This is one of the more significant technological challenges of our time, but I’m optimistic a solution will be found.

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Call it the Principle of Uncommon Cognomen. If a book or movie (or in this case, both) has an unusual name, there can be no middle ground — it will either be as embarrassing as its title, or cool enough to justify its unique appellation.

Fortunately, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a solid film. Based on a 2008 historical novel, the movie takes place during the 1940s on the island of Guernsey, located in the English Channel and occupied by Germany in the second world war. Juliet Ashton, a writer who achieved fame during the war, visits the island and its oddly named literary society in 1946 after being contacted by one of its members. Ashton learns the society served as a resistance to the Germans, and discovers a secret the society would rather not have her reveal.

The film works on a number of levels. As historical fiction, it sheds light on an obscure theater of World War II, and creates empathy for the island residents who chose not to evacuate in advance of the Germans. Ashton, adroitly played by Lily Adams, is an engaging character who functions well as the audience’s guide to Guernsey and its mysteries. She also struggles with her recent engagement, and while the audience can see the resolution to this storyline early in the second act, Adams is a strong enough actress to make this part of the film seem genuine.

The film was released in theaters in Great Britain, but evidently believing American audiences were adverse to characters speaking in British accents, it is only available on Netflix in the United States. That’s a shame, because the wide shots of the Guernsey coastline are best appreciated on a large silver screen. But even when restricted to the narrower width of your home television screen, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” demonstrates that a film with the most unusual of titles can still be unusually good.

Peril

A recent story from Derek Alan Wilkerson demonstrates the peril of writing from a child’s perspective. The narrator attempts to convey thoughts from just before his fourth birthday, but instead of that kid’s voice, we hear the opinions of a cynical and not terribly insightful adult. A third-person narrative might have worked better.

Friday Fictioneers: Dividendings

The top of the coffee table was clear on the the day I retired, and the detritus it’s collected represent the dividend of my new freedom. But the scotch is almost empty, my friends and their cigarettes have worn out their welcome, and the sight of candy now makes me nauseous. I’ve enjoyed these past couple of months, but I’m ready to get busy end, and say goodbye to the dividends of my retirement.

I don’t always participate in Friday Fictioneers, but I always enjoy the experience.

Don’t be a fool

The following post should be entirely unnecessary, as its message is obvious, the equivalent of statements such as Look both ways before crossing a street, or Diversify your retirement portfolio, or Twitter sucks.

But a friend of mine, whose intellect I respect, today went on Facebook (which also sucks) and posted a quote that can be proven, with less than five minutes of Internet research, to be false.

I guess even the most basic lessons need reiteration.

Nope — he didn’t say it

Let’s start with a different quote, one that I have to refute about twice a year. I’m no fan of The Fraud, and I’m more than a little disgusted with the GOP’s response to his regime, but I’ll never be satisfied with the tease of dishonesty, no matter how much it may flatter. This quote needs to go away, forever, although I’m pretty certain it will continue showing up in my Facebook feed from time to time, like a recurring outbreak of a dormant virus.

She didn’t say this either

Time to move on to today’s subject, a less egregious distortion but still a deliberate lie. For those who don’t know her, Brooke Baldwin is a journalist for the American news network CNN. In 2015, during a live interview on the subject of police training, she made the following statement:

A lot of young people — and I love our nation’s veterans, but some of them are coming back from war, they don’t know the communities, and they’re ready to do battle.

Baldwin was criticized for this remark about veterans, and the following day she apologized, on air as well as online. To summarize: she made an error, acknowledged her mistake, and issued an apology. Sorry folks — nothing more to see here.

But then, three years later… “Don’t hire veterans!” And five minutes of my life lost to research, and another hour writing this post.

It’s not that I’m against paraphrasing, but enclosing a misleading paraphrase in quotes is inexcusable. Let me walk through an example, using a famous aphorism that’s entirely appropriate for today’s subject:

Now THIS, he actually said

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Abraham Lincoln

Let’s paraphrase the quote as follows:

 

Not entirely accurate, but close enough

Abraham Lincoln believed Americans were gullible.

You could argue this strays from Lincoln’s intended meaning (for one thing, he doesn’t specifically address his countrymen), but there’s still a close enough connection to his original words to justify the paraphrase. And by not using quotation marks, the paraphraser acknowledges going beyond Lincoln’s words to make a related, but not identical, comment.

Now let’s take it to the extreme that’s become the norm these days, and the place my friend went today by forwarding the Brooke Baldwin fake quote — distort the original words beyond recognition, and give the fabrication an unwarranted air of authenticity by using quotation marks:

I’m going to hell for this, aren’t I?

“Americans are a bunch of fucking idiots.”

Abraham Lincoln

I didn’t enjoy calling out my friend today, but I also believed I wouldn’t be doing her any favor by letting her foolish mistake (five minutes of research! really!) go unchallenged. Truth matters, and by playing loose with accuracy for the sake of bolstering our arguments — and by forwarding quotes that can be easily proven to be fake — we only serve to embarrass ourselves.