Review: Revere Beach Boulevard

I bought Revere Beach Boulevard because there was a piece in my alumni magazine about a fellow writer and a fellow alumnus, and I read most of it while I was on a brief holiday in Sicily.

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Revere Beach Boulevard is a contemporary novel set in Revere, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Four of the principal characters are an Italian-American family: Lucy, the mother, is dying of cancer; Vito, the father is a retired carpenter; Peter, a son in his forties, sells real estate and has a serious gambling addiction; Joanie, the older sister with a secret, is apparently a successful newsreader for a Boston TV station. The other characters – friends and acquaintances – are part of the immigrant culture of Family, Church, and Food, and as such, the novel does them justice. The plot revolves around Peter who is heavily in debt to the local Mafioso. He hasn’t the money to pay, and friends and family are largely losing patience, as is the malevolent Chelsea Eddie, who finds that he doesn’t hold all the cards. Joanne is about the run a TV special on criminals like Eddie.

Without revealing the outcome, the plot has all the elements of a well-written thriller. I found it difficult to put it down. But there is much more to it than a thriller: the examination of values like love, trust, faith and above all: who we are as human beings. The characters, particularly Peter, Vito and Alfonse – the police chief with a secret – are very real and imperfectly human.

Without detracting much from the value and readability of this novel, one aspect that I didn’t particularly like was that each of the characters told a part of the story. This meant that one often had to read a whole paragraph before one knew which of about nine characters was talking. I felt that Peter and an omniscient narrator could have told the story equally well. I had minor reservations about two of the characters. I didn’t think that Chelsea Eddie would worry so much about what Joanie would say about him on the air: any Mafioso worth his salt has an anti-libel lawyer on standby, and Joanie had no solid evidence. Maybe is she were FBI rather than a newsreader? For me, Joanie’s loss of self-control during her visit to her dying mother didn’t ring true. She is a highly-paid TV executive who fought her way up to that position. Distressed, but not an injured child. Neither of these quibbles had any impact on the splendid plot.

The final proof-reading of the text could have been better. Frequently there were extra spaces between words, and hyphens were used instead of dashes to offset parenthetical phrases. For me, this caused confusion.

I certainly recommend Revere Beach Boulevard. It is unusual; it is interesting; it is captivating; it is well-written

Review: Hidden Battlefields

‘Kitty’ posted the following review of Hidden Battlefields on Amazon.com:

Hidden Battlefields, the sequel to The Iranian Scorpion, finds Robert Dawson that book’s main character off on another assignment as an undercover agent for the DEA this time not in the Middle East but in Peru dealing with the guerrilla group, the Shining Path. Other characters from the first book make appearances here, too, as they work out some of their personal struggles dating from that time. There is Robert’s father, David; David’s fiancé, Mary Jo; a journalist Kate, friends to both Robert and David. If you are curious about the intricacies of the international drug trade you will learn much from Hidden Battlefields, as Robert’s work takes him from the jungles of Peru across the Atlantic to Africa and concluding in Italy. One admirable attribute of Mr Peace’s work is the incredible research he does in preparing his stories. One will not be disappointed, as we learn the details of international drug smuggling in several different countries and the behind the scene deals that are made, some involving governments, including ours. Mr Peace’s novels are not one dimensional. We have the plot of the drug trade, but once again we are treated to philosophical and theological discussions. Mary Jo and Robert discuss belief and free will, established churches and native rituals. However, we also have stimulating debates between Robert and Comrade Vancho, among others, who express their approval of Maoist socialism. But there is always a third thread woven into Mr Peace’s books and that is the tension in human relationships. In Hidden Battlefields we have an examination of parent/child relationships. Robert and his father have always had a “distant” personal relationship made more complicated in this book by Robert’s involvement with his father’s “fiancé.” That fiancé, Mary Jo is also dealing with her relationship with her father. The dynamics of both of those make for interesting reading and the solution to both have a satisfactory conclusion, thanks to a talented writer. Similarly, the author comes to a clever resolution of the romantic triangle – or should I say square. If you like adventure, philosophy, human relationships and romance this book will be your cup of tea. You won’t be able to put it down.

Point of View

I have joined the Florida Writers Association, which is an organisation (based in Florida, but open to non-Floridians) for writers of all kinds.  It has contests, seminars, meetings and plenty of interaction amongst members.

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The April 2015 monthly magazine, The Florida Writer, has an article entitled “Why the Point of View is Confusing and How to Think More Clearly About It”.  The article was written by Kristen Stieffel, a “writer and freelance editor specialising is speculative fiction”.  I have no idea what “speculative fiction” might be, but I thought her article was quite useful and interesting.

She says: “A story will be rolling along nicely in one character’s viewpoint, and then an omnipresent narrator will pop up with a history lesson.  Or mid-scene we’ll bounce around everyone’s heads to find out what they’re all thinking.  The author has lost control of the viewpoint.  A large factor in confusion about viewpoint is the labels we use.  If I tell you a story is written in Third Person, what do you actually know?  Only that it uses he and she pronouns.  Nothing else.  Person tells you nothing about viewpoint. Viewpoint is not about pronouns.  Viewpoint is about character.   So instead of saying ‘third person’ and then piling on a bunch of modifiers, I prefer to speak of viewpoint as being either Narrator Viewpoint or Character Viewpoint.  Viewpoint is the channel through which the reader connects to the characters in the story, which means that if the viewpoint is broken, the connection is broken.”

She gives an example from Tolkien which is told in Narrator Viewpoint, and she makes the point that the wide scope of the story and the multiplicity of characters make the omniscient narrator an effective way to tell the story.  She gives another example from Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz which is written in Character Viewpoint.  Both of these stories are written in third person, but their perspectives are quite different.  Stieffel says that Character Viewpoint provides a close connection between the reader and the character, but Narrator Viewpoint is necessary if the author wants to reveal information known to one character but not to another.  She says: “When readers have information the characters don’t, it can heighten tension, but it hampers the ability of the reader to experience the story in tandem with the characters.”

Stieffel says there are various kinds of Narrators: “from the omniscient narrator who knows and tells all, to the unreliable narrator who pretends to know all but lies about it to a narrator that makes no judgements acting as a camera and showing events without commentary or value judgements.”

She makes the point that it is possible to tell a story with both Narrator and Character Viewpoints, but that one has to be careful with  this mode not to lose focus.  It is also possible to tell a story with multiple Character Viewpoints, but it can be confusing and it means that the reader will not bond as tightly with each character.  I am currently reading a novel with half a dozen Character Viewpoints, and the difficulty I am having, as the scene shifts, is who’s talking?

Stieffel doesn’t mention first person.  Perhaps because it is a variation on a Character Viewpoint.  Sable Shadow and The Presence is written in the first person mainly because I felt it offered a better opportunity to connect the reader with the feelings of the principal character.  The novel I’m currently writing is also in the first person, because of the connection with the principal character’s feelings and to enhance the credibility of events that occur to a character who is clearly honest.  When writing in the first person, it is possible to transition into a kind of narrator viewpoint where the principal character becomes the narrator, but one has to be careful not to reveal anything in narrator mode that the principal character doesn’t know.