Thursday, September 26, 2013

In a Word: Exceptional

Book Review: I Can't Complain by Elinor Lipman

When reading a book, I usually find myself coming back to what I call the "Three Cs" - Clarity (how well it is written), Consistency (do the characters behave in character), and Cohesiveness (does the whole thing stick together). I have found over a lifetime of reading (and I am past the half-century mark, thank you) that these measures pretty much apply to any book, in any genre.

Elinor Lipman's I Can't Complain hits all three and throws a few bonuses as well. Of course, since these are personal essays, the main character stays in character - it's Elinor after all. Her writing is concise [an undocumented C], clear, and simply a joy to read. And the whole thing sticks together like Silly Putty.

More than that, Elinor Lipman takes the everyday and makes it ... more than that. Events do not need to be extraordinary to make them meaningful. I think the present generation has lost sight of the simple fact that the simple things and the basic emotions that go with them are important in their own right. Everything does not have to be an adrenaline pumping heart-pounding YouTube event to be important in a person's life. To expect otherwise is, I believe, missing the point of life entirely.

Thank you, Ms. Lipman, for writing about what it is really like to live life, and to be aware you are living it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Josephine Marcus Earp - Untold

Book Review: Lady at the O.K. Corral by Ann Kirschner

In her attempt to write a biography of Josephine Marcus Earp, author Ann Kirschner gives us a mix of history, folk tales, and family lore, with a touch of educated guesswork. The result, Lady at the O.K. Corral, ends up equal parts history and historical fiction, with a not altogether satisfying portion of either.

The book is strongest in the Tombstone chapters, where the legendary Wyatt Earp is heavily documented. The wealth of historical information on Wyatt makes the character of Josephine sharper by association, although the factual basis for her is weakest here. To be fair, the documentation of women's role in the Old West is sparse to say the least; they were regarded as little more than bit players on the Western stage.

As Wyatt's role in the story starts to be less important, Lady begins to lag -- supposition and third party accounts do not a biography make. The author frequently remarks how Josephine was closed-mouth about her own story, but the scarcity of information makes the story a little too threadbare. There is a great story here, but it never fully emerges.

In the end, Lady of the O.K. Corral is more of a fictionalized biography, without the cohesiveness of either a straight biography or historical fiction. The genre CAN work; I thought that the fictionalized biography of Irene Nemirovsky, The Mirador: Dreamed Memories of Irene Nemirovsky by Her Daughter, was an exceptional book. Lady seems to want to hide behind the facts rather than build on them, and fails to embrace the intriguing personality of Josephine as a result.