Tuesday, February 25, 2014

WITS Book Reviews February 2014

Book Title: Fiat
Author: Jeff Schlaman
ISBN 13: 978-1493560936
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Genre: Suspense Novel
Publication Date: December 17, 2013
Book Length in Pages: 308
Reviewer: Dana Micheli

Set in an all too possible world a few years in the future, Jeff Schlaman's Fiat has the feel of a post-apocalyptic horror story; but instead of zombies or thugs brandishing weapons on a bloody field, the perpetrators are in the back rooms of Wall Street and Washington D.C. Their years of fiscal irresponsibility, coupled with a series of devastating super storms, has brought the country to its knees. As a result, America's political enemies have preyed upon it weakness, even placing bids to buy destitute cities.

Schlaman has created a terrifying page-turner that is all the more frightening because, in light of the Great Recession, no longer seems implausible. He captures the narcissism and all encompassing power of the few who hold the strings, usually while the rest of us live in ignorance of what is going on. At the same time, Fiat is a commentary on the runaway materialism that has taken hold of our society; while we may not be the architects of our financial ruin, we are complicit by virtue of our refusal to see the truth. We have come to expect the big houses, gas-guzzlers, and expensive electronics, without any thought to whether we can really afford them.

What made this book so hard for me to put down was the personal stories of people from all walks of life, in different parts of the country. That, along with the political subplots, made this one of the most suspenseful books I've read in quite some time.

Book Title: American Sycamore
Author: Karen Fielding
ISBN 13: 978-1781721179
Publisher: Seren
Genre: Narrative Novel
Publication Date: March 15, 2014
Reviewer: Dana Micheli

It is a rare pleasure to be completely immersed in a book--when a writer is able to engage all five senses so the reader feels like they are truly there. That's what Karen Fielding did when she created the beautiful, tragic world of American Sycamore. It is the story of Alice Sycamore, a young girl coming of age in the rural Pennsylvania of the 1970s, as well as the turmoil of dealing with her mentally ill brother.

Fielding's prose is achingly beautiful, with descriptions of nature so vivid it reminded me of Alice Hoffman. With every page of American Sycamore, I could smell the brackish odor of the Susquehanna River, feel the desolation of walking along it on an icy winter day, and the insects landing on my skin during a hot, sticky summer.

But what I loved most about Fielding's writing is its subtlety. Humor in the face of emotional agony must be used by only the most skilled writers, and even then very carefully, lest it downplays the drama of the story. In Fielding's hands, it gives this drama yet another layer of realism. We see the ignorance of these times through the eyes (and funny, cryptic statements) of Joseph Lightfoot, a Native American who is trivialized by white society but gains wisdom from the ghosts of his ancestors. This also serves as a bit of irony, for Alice's brother, Billy-a manic depressive- also sees things that others cannot. Is Billy completely crazy, or does he also possess a particular brand of supernatural wisdom? While it is most likely the former, it did give me pause. I would be hard-pressed to name many authors--Joyce Carol Oates being one of them--that conveys human emotions and family dysfunctions so simply and so honestly.

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