Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Review; The Tropics, by Mary Deal

I love finding books by sheer accident. Sometimes I luck out by focusing solely on the lower shelves at the library, or by hunting up and down the bargain aisles at Borders or Barnes & Noble. But finding a book via the Internet is a new one for me, and that's precisely how I found author Mary Deal. I'm so glad I did. 

I discovered Mary's website while I was researching how to write a novella, a form I feel suits my current WIP. When I put "novella" into my AOL search engine, Mary's site came up almost right away. The wealth of information on the site intrigued me. Not only did I learn more about writing novellas, I found all kinds of great pages on poetry, nonfiction--well, any genre! Just as valuable were the links to Mary's books, the first being The Tropics: Child of a Storm - Caught in a Rip - Hurricane Secret, a series of novellas published under one cover. I ordered the set immediately, and then of course had to read them even more immediately. And I haven't been quite the same since.  As a reader and a writer, I absolutely loved these stories for the following reasons: 

1.  Mary Deal writes with an exquisite sense of place. Whether it's Puerto Rico or Hawaii, "I was there." The rain, the wind, the ocean: I lived through these stories so intensely I was truly lost in a storm--for hours, for days. 

2.  If it's true that a novella should be about emotional intensity, then Mary Deal should win a prize. Each of her separate novellas contains a strong core of emotional conflict that is never far from the surface and haunts every line. The sense of dread coupled with hope is powerful. 

3.  The external action mirrors the internal emotion. The stories never go off onto unrelated or unnecessary tangents. Every story event is connected and vital to the overall theme. 

4.  Along with the plot lines, the two main female characters, Ciara and Lilly, are unforgettable. They are such a study in emotional contrasts and needs that I still cannot separate from them. 

5.  A good book should be a page turner and I found myself unable to put The Tropics down. At the same time, I wanted to savor the story, not just gulp it down--but I was so torn. At times I read fast, then slow, then I'd read it all over again. The characters were drawn so well I began to dream about them. 

6.  Alongside the various story events, there were always deeper questions that made me want to journal, collage, and contemplate the answers and apply them to my own life. They were the kind of questions that are also perfect for book club discussion, too. 

7.  When I was finished reading, I couldn't stop crying. Okay, that is a very strange reason to recommend a book. But I once heard someone say that when a piece of art or writing makes us cry, it is because those images or words are true. Mary has written such a profound work of “truth as fiction" I was knocked sideways. The Tropics is a book that is always going to be with me. And isn’t that always the best kind of book? 

Tip of the Day: Check out Mary's website for great writing tips and to learn more about her other books. I've just bought two more of her titles: The Ka and Down to the Needle. I can't wait to start reading!

1 comment:

Mary Deal said...

Oh dear Valerie! I am so happy that you loved The Tropics. You totally understood every point I had hoped to make in writing these novellas. I am so grateful for your comments here and on I must have read them a hundred times and shared them with anyone who would listen. I still shake my head while saying, "She got it! She got it!" Thank you so much.