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Book Review: Polly’s Wild Dance: A Life Serialized in Sporadic Spurts by Sydnee Elliot

Book Review: Polly's Wild Dance: A Life Serialized in Sporadic Spurts by Sydnee ElliotSummary:
Now that Polly’s daughter has left home, she finally decides to follow her long-time dream of living on the Greek islands and moves there. But she finds even moving to another country can’t help her escape the memories of her ex-lovers (or, in the case of her daughter’s father, their actual presence). As she ruminates on her life and deals with the difficulties of aging, she wonders if her life has brought her the fulfillment she was after.

Review:
I picked this up during one of Smashwords’ annual summer/winter sales because the premise vaguely reminded me of Under the Tuscan Sun, a movie I’ve always enjoyed. What I got was an older heroine with a more honest mouth and a dirtier past. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting and I wouldn’t choose to live my life the way the main character lived hers, but I certainly enjoyed it.

The author clearly has either lived in Boston or has done a lot of research. Polly grows up in New England and then lives in either Cambridge or Boston for the early parts of her life. Everything written about Cambridge/Boston is quite accurate, although definitely not always flattering. Since this is the case for the setting of Cambridge/Boston, I came to trust the narrator regarding her experiences in California, Las Vegas, and finally the Greek islands.

Polly is unapologetically crass. Given that this is a fiction book written in the style of an older person’s memoir, I can see how this may be jarring to some readers anticipating a more…grandmotherly style story.  Personally, I enjoy the brutal honesty Polly brings to everything. She paints neither herself nor her family nor her lovers in a positive light. She verges on the side of pessimism. But there’s something I like about that level of honesty.

The edge of his tallis, the prayer shawl worn by Jewish men [Polly is Jewish and raised in a religious home], was folded back over his shoulder, so it wouldn’t touch me. Women aren’t allowed to touch this sacred garment because we’re considered unclean. The folded eight inches of fabric reminded me of one of the reasons why I couldn’t believe in this religion, or any religion. I wanted to crush the tallis with my hands, rub it over my face, arms, along my naked body and against my genitals. (loc 970)

If that passage offends you, the book will most likely offend you. If you enjoy the visceral passion Polly shows in rejecting the religion of her childhood, you will most likely enjoy the book.

The plot mainly revolves around Polly adapting to life in Greece and being haunted by visions of her ex-lovers. Basically, she will think she sees one of her ex-lovers and then tell the story of her time with him. The overarching plot is she is wondering if seeing these hauntings means her life is almost over. Also scattered throughout this plot is Polly coming to terms with being older, her body failing her, the fact that she doesn’t have a constant true love, and accepting that she is nearing the end of her life. Polly has many lovers throughout her life, and it’s clear that sometimes she was seeking one out to use him. Similarly, she is the other woman at least once and not in an accidental way. In a I hope you’ll leave your wife for me way. Polly admits she was bad at love but is also unapologetic about it. She seems lost as to how she could have done better, even right up to choosing her most recent lover.

I wanted to love Andreas. I needed to love him; I needed to love someone, anyone, and he happened to be available. (loc 5985)

While I appreciated Polly’s voice and passion, I also felt extremely sad for her. She never seems to have figured out how to be both passionate about her beliefs and also willing to listen to others. She never seems to have grown beyond the first rebellion stage into self-actualization. In a way, then, while the book has amusing scenes, overall, I found it to be a sad, cautionary tale about how failing to work on yourself, simply letting yourself muddle along, can lead to a wasted life.

Overall, this is an interesting book that features a plot I haven’t seen before. Readers interested in reading something featuring an older person  who failed to actualize or even really realize their mistakes late in life should definitely pick this up. It is well-done.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Smashwords

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Book Review: The Postmortal by Drew Magary (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Green book cover with a grim reaper impaled on his own scythe.Summary:
John Farrell got The Cure before it was legal.  Three painful shots, and now he’ll never age, although he can still be killed by accidents, murder, and disease.  It doesn’t take long before public pressure forces governments to legalize The Cure, in spite of the concerns, sometimes expressed in the form of terrorist acts, of those who believe in natural aging.  Of course, nobody listens, because who wants to age?  But slowly the world starts to change in more ways than becoming increasingly overpopulated.  We’ve reassembled what happened when The Cure was legal through combining John’s blog entries with news articles from his time period, as a cautionary tale.

Review:
I actually bought this when it was released because it sounded so intriguing to me.  A futuristic epistolary novel looking at overpopulation is right up my alley.  Unfortunately, I got so busy that I didn’t have time to read it right away.  I was happy to be able to finally pick it up.  The book presents an interesting dystopia but the storytelling struggles increasingly throughout the book, falling flat at the end.

The book starts out incredibly strong.  Magary strikes the right balance of realistic personal blog entries with snippets of news, twitter/facebook feeds, etc… to tell the early story of The Cure.  The world building doesn’t suffer at all, with a clear near-future established, and John’s character is immediately easy to understand.  The years immediately after The Cure is legalized are similarly well-told, with Magary choosing interesting and realistic consequences to The Cure, including violent anti-Cure extremists, peaceful anti-Cure moderates, bohemian everlasting youth, those who build fortresses around themselves and their families, and even internet trolls who take their trolling out into real life.

The world slowly establishes to the point where it’s clearly too overpopulated, and various governments make various choices about how they’re going to deal with that, and John gets caught up in the control side of the US government’s choices.  It is here, midway through the book, where things stop being so well-written and thought out and stop working quite so well.

First, the parameters of The Cure seem clear early on in the book.  It appears that it cures not just aging but any illness that could be correlated to being the result of aging, such as heart disease.  It is clearly listed out that The Cure protects you from many things but not extreme things like AIDS or being smashed by a safe.  Later on in the book, though, those who have The Cure but have a real age of elderly start having diseases that tend to show up late in life, such as cancer and heart disease.  This shakiness of exactly what The Cure does is a real problem in the book’s world building.  The reader expects one set of parameters but then gets a different one.

Second, although early in the book Magary strikes a great balance of realistic blog entries, news articles, and twitter/facebook feeds, as the book continues on, this balance drops off, and the book reads more and more like a straight-forward first-person narration, with only the occasional news article.  This makes it harder to believe these are real blog entries, particularly as they get more and more unrealistically long as John becomes busier and does more dangerous tasks.

Similarly, as the world becomes more complex, some of the world building choices make less and less sense.  For instance, a certain country chooses to periodically blow up its cities with nuclear bombs in order to control its population. It’s hard to imagine any country dumping nuclear waste into itself just to control population.  Surely even just bombs with less environmental impact would be chosen.  Similarly, a certain type of violent gang becomes rampant across the US but their motivations or reasons for turning so violent and bloody are never examined.  Are they striving to be the only people left? Do they just enjoy causing chaos? Dehumanizing them makes it easy to other them, which in turn makes the dystopic future less frightening, as it’s only the crazy, monstrous people who form into violent gangs.  Some of these limits come from the fact that our main character, whose blog entries we’re reading, isn’t a particularly inquisitive person.  He tumbles along and doesn’t seem to care much about anything, particularly in the final portions of the book.  Yes, he is probably depressed, but even early on he never seems that interested in other viewpoints.  The rare two occasions where we get glimpses into something besides his day-to-day life are once at the behest of his job, and once because his son implores him to come to his church.  In other words, it takes extraordinary circumstances for John, our narrator, to investigate anything other than what is right in front of his face, which makes for a story that’s missing a lot of information about this dystopic future, particularly when we only get John’s perspective for hundreds of years.  The story would probably have been better served by analyzing multiple different people’s blogs.  Perhaps John’s, his son’s mother’s, his son’s, his partner’s at work, a troll’s, etc…. This would have given the same epistolary feel but also more information about the dystopic world and more depth.

Finally, the ending takes a sharp turn into manic pixie dream girl land, that I found incredibly frustrating.  John makes a sudden, completely inexplicable, unrealistic change in personality thanks to a manic pixie dream girl showing up (a female character who exists only to show up and show a depressed male character the meaning of life.  Full exploration of this trope).  Given the whole rest of the book, the ending was completely out of left field, and frankly felt lazy.  A much richer, deeper ending could have been written that went right into the depth and darkness of John’s soul, giving him no miraculous last-minute redemption.  Instead his character does a complete 180 and gives the reader an unexpected, and unearned, ending.

Given all of these complaints, why am I still giving the book three stars?  The world it sets up is awesome.  It’s a dystopia I want to visit again and again.  The first third of the book handles the futuristic, tech-savvy epistolary novel really well, and that’s hard to do.  Finally, most of my complaints have to do with the author not giving me enough, not taking things deep enough, dark enough, not living up to the writing in the first third of his own book.  It’s a sign of a good book to leave me wanting more, and that’s why I’m still happy I read it.  It’s a creative vision of a dystopic future that I hadn’t seen before, and I would love to see more books set in it.  Recommended to fans of dystopias who won’t mind a frustrating ending.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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