Tag Archives: Review

Book Review: Shattered Glass by Dani Alexander

27 Oct

shattered glass

 

So I decided to check out this m/m romance because it’s a genre that’s booming lately (there’s dozens of these things out) and I never read one before.

I’m a firm believer in appreciating any work on its own terms.  I don’t want to be like the guy who was in the mood for a western and ignorantly watched Oklahoma! and starts ranting how this is the worst western ever.   It’s one thing to evaluate Oklahoma on it’s own strengths and weaknesses, however expecting it to be something it’s not is the fault of the viewer, not the work.

So with self-published works like this, no matter the genre, you need to read it like you would watch a self-made movie, or any other self made work of art.   When they’re good, they’ll be fun, charming, but also a little rough in places.   If you’re looking for flawless prose or slick writing you are in the wrong place.   Also what I look for is some sense of personality–the reason why I like reading self-published works is that you get the real sense of the person writing this, verses pulp books cranked out of a publishing house.

While I think this book is a mixed affair, one thing that shines through and really makes me forgive the flaws, is that it’s clear that Dani Alexander is creating a work from his heart.   Honestly, at finishing this book, I felt like I had a good friend that I was really proud of for finally finishing his book.   There’s definitely a sense that he really cares about his characters and this was a labor of love for him.

I’m not going into all the details of the plot, but it’s basically Law and Order mixed with Queer as Folk and romantic comedy.    Some of it works and some of it doesn’t.  Here’s my breakdown:

The Romantic Plot–The romance between Austin and Peter is ok with a few details which kind of bug me a little.   So Austin suppressed his homosexuality for years because of the suicide of his gay friend, but one day as he’s about to get married he sees Peter and his gay switch turns to on.  While I’m not expecting a book like this to be realistic, Peter’s shift from not-gay to gay seems to be a little too effortless.   At the same time, Peter–who’s been traumatized by being a gay hustler and who normally identifies as straight, is ok with being gay just for Austin.  I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about that–I know that people’s sexualities are often much more fluid than society permits, but still–am I supposed to find the fact that both these men don’t normally sleep with men for pleasure attractive?   For me, it kind of leaves a bad taste.   Other than that, their relationship is about actual love so I can give them points for that.   I got a little annoyed with the Romantic Comedy cliche of bickering then making out–because THAT’S the basis for a healthy relationship.

The Crime Plot–Serviceable.  I never was on the edge of my seat, and I couldn’t keep track of which cops were which, but it did make things happen.    This book certainly keeps its characters active–my pet peeve is a book where characters do nothing but talk at each other.

Cai–Cai is a great character, and the only one that really engaged me.  The way he spoke and acted just got to my soft side.   I also really liked his mother.

The Humor–The humor will either make it or break it for you.  I liked it, though it could get grating at points.   Each part has a Frasier style heading that’s usually a bad pun.   Humor is very individual though, so if you don’t find things like that funny, you’d best look for another book.

And yes, the plots are rickety, most of the characters flat stereotypes, the dialogue wooden, but none of that particularly bothers me–it’s part of it in fact.  I read this like I’d watch some late night movie–I’m not looking for Shakespeare here.

My one major criticism is that the book was a little too long and plotty.   Between the crime drama, the romance, Peter’s back story, Austin’s back story, the wedding, there is just too much to be invested in.  Some parts were very charming–particularly anything at Austin’s home.  However I think that many of the sub-plots could have been excised or severely shortened to allow more room for the good stuff to shine.   It comes off as cluttered.  I would also suggest cutting it by half in general–Alexander does the writing equivalent in drowning his cereal in milk–a little goes a long way.

That being said–I think Alexander is a talented writer that I want to see continue.  There were some moments where I was thinking I can’t believe that I’m getting drawn into this.   He just needs to write some more and fiddle with his recipe a little to find the right balance of plot, characterization, and romance.

Also, oddly, the Glass series has a rabid fan-base, of straight women.  Huh.  Go figure.

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Poetry Review, William Blake, Infant Sorrow

10 Jan

William Blake was a visionary.  While many literary critics tend to lump him in with the Romantic writers, his work is far more idiosyncratic than that (and that’s saying a lot) and also he was quite a bit older.  At the same time his poetry bears almost no relationship to the age of reason fuddy-duddies that he was peer to.  (I don’t dislike the Age of Reason poets, they just speak to the head more than the emotions and are extremely thinky in good and bad ways.)    The reason that William Blake is considered a sort of father to the romantics is that he had all of their qualifications in hand, he believed in individualism, his religious views were very broad and very based on his personal experience, he went towards emotional expression rather than dictums, reasoning (as the enlightenment folk thought of it), and rules.  Though he probably thought that his work was good for people’s morality because it brought out emotion, he never wandered to the preachy, morals quoting side of the aisle.  Well I could talk about him all day, but let’s look at the work.

First, even the title is a bit eyebrow-raising–“Infant Sorrow” because sorrow seems like such a complicated emotion for a baby to have, sure a baby can cry out of need, but sorrow is a feeling of loss.  The question it brings up is, “why would a baby have a feeling of loss?”

So we start out in a not all the way positive birthing process:  “My mother groaned, my father wept—”  These were the first sounds that this baby heard.   The groaning would be from the birthing process and the weeping?  Well, there are tears of joy, however, considering that this is “Infant Sorrow” we’re talking about, the father might be weeping out of fear for his wife’s life, also that the baby might not be quite welcome.

“Into the dangerous world I leapt,”  Although the birthing process gave the baby no choice but to be born, it’s interesting with the leaping, as if this baby was eager to get out into the world.  There’s a note of disappointment though, the dangerous world, not looking before you leap. I’m imagining looking forward to being born and then you’re in this room where there’s groaning and weeping, I suppose signs of danger to a little one.

He’s also “helpless, naked, piping loud” so making a lot of noise but unable to do anything else.  The next line is very surprising “like a fiend hid in a cloud.” If we go for symbolism, the baby is the fiend, and he was hidden in his mother’s womb.  Also there’s a level of bad intent here, a fiend in a cloud can hide what he’s doing, and he’s certainly up to no good.

“Struggling in my father’s hands, Striving against my swaddling bands,”  So the baby is trying to fight constraint, but he is not strong enough.

“Bound and weary, I thought best/to sulk upon my mother’s breast.”  So after wearing himself out, he sulks.  (The “I found best” bit is a little bit of irony, since the baby had very little choice, perhaps he would not sulk, but where he was and what he was doing beyond that was completely out of his control.)

So why read a poem about an unhappy baby?  Naturally, Blake isn’t writing a poem about what babyhood is like, but how life is like for us.  Aren’t there times where we are perfectly constrained, and all the fighting in the world won’t get us our freedom?  I’m thinking about recovering addicts, who have exactly this kind of sorrow, or people who are bedridden by something like a broken bone.

Helplessness.  We are taught to fight against it, to not acknowledge it, we confuse helplessness with victimhood.  However, it’s foolish to fight against certain things, like elephants and bulldozers or brick walls.  We’ll just end up frustrated and sulking and worn out over wasted effort.  Aren’t there some things better to surrender to?  (Oh but we hate that passivity, we should be proactive!)  And this is the infant sorrow–the realization that we do not have all power over all things, in fact we don’t even have power over ourselves completely.  Occasionally we can make an illusion for ourselves that we have great power, but sooner or later the real world comes in and swaddles us back up.   Knowing where our power isn’t is paradoxically the first step towards true freedom in life, bringing us from the mind of an infant to a small child.