Book Review: Ruthless

Ruthless

 

Ruthless, a realistic young adult novel by Carolyn Lee Adams is a competently told tale about a girl who struggles to survive as the target of a serial killer. Through her ordeal, the heroine Ruth is forced to strip her self-image and reassess the person she thought she was. The plot alternates between the immediacy of her predicament and chapters devoted to backstory. Though relevant, Adams oddly chooses to relay this information by increasing the narrative distance, offering the material through an unnamed omniscient voice. She squanders the opportunity to dig deep and mine the veins of gold that would have enriched the characters. Ruthless does reflect on the way choices and actions alter personality and add to baggage that will forever be a part of the soul, especially when committed by necessity. Adams also offers a distinct testament to the prevalence in our society to stand by and allow bad things to happen.

Serial killers are the true monsters among us, and if the novel falls short in any way, it’s by not having a deeper sense of what Ruth was truly up against. A hero’s dilemma is only as great as the obstacles he or she must face. By increasing the terrifying nature of the killer, it would have served to increase our fear for Ruth. As serial killers go, I thought the character, initially known to her as Ted, was somewhat mild. The reader sees the evidence of his past crimes, but we didn’t get enough sense of the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the thing that is most fearsome about these people. It’s the deadliness hidden by the face of normalcy that provides the minefield of suspense for the reader, and on that score, Ruthless didn’t quite hit its stride.

How do you feel?

Be

 

Four words, a construct of social interplay designed to initiate an exchange between two people. It’s up there with Good morning, How’s it going, and Hey there. It’s a question asked and a question answered with equally uninformative phrases like: Doing good, not bad, or I’m okay. Many add the required: how about you, for which round two concludes in the same innocuous manner.

Such lackluster exchanges point to a deficiency in emphasis and genuineness. As a whole, we’re good at the former and not so much the latter. How do you feel? If you stop to consider the question, it’s not a greeting, but an invitation. If you apply emphasis on the last word, how do you FEEL, the asker is being genuine, as if they really want to know. It’s then incumbent on the askee to be honest. That’s usually where the bond crumbles. How often do you pose the question, just to break the ice in greeting, really hoping that you get one of the standard answers from the list? After all, who wants to be the recipient of someone capable of grabbing your ear for an hour on the subject? How often do you avoid the answer because you simply believe the other person is just being polite, or you don’t feel comfortable bearing your soul, or you simply haven’t taken inventory of the real answers? You could ask yourself the question to step away from being two-dimensional, but let’s face it; we’re not really adept at being honest with ourselves either.

There’s a reason therapists belabor their patients with this question. Feelings, something that humans try to usurp as being one of the hallmarks that set our species apart (a blatant fallacy) are what drive us. A feeling is the steering wheel that turns us in the direction of action. I suspect many of our actions derive from a superficial sense of feelings we haven’t adequately analyzed, for if we did, would we truly be racist, or homophobic, or hateful? How can we expect the world to behave better if we individually act from a perspective of inattentiveness to our own feelings? Feeling is the one tool that drives empathy, and empathy breeds tolerance and acceptance. To ignore feeling opens a channel to destruction and hate. If Omar Mateen had stopped to consider the intrinsic value of seeing two men kissing, that the simple expression of love was of far more worth than hate and murder, he would have been able to override the nonsensical and bombastic canon all religions foist on their followers and seen the truth of that moment. He would never have pulled the trigger.

We’ve become too used to spouting words devoid of genuineness. The other morning, watching news coverage on the Pulse Nightclub shootings, the anchor opened the stage to a local journalist on the scene. As the line of communications opened, the journalist began by saying, “Good Morning”. My only thought was, no, it’s really not. The journalist wasn’t trying to be insensitive; he was using a salutation that was simply polite, even though it was horribly inappropriate to the moment. It speaks to the notion that we do so many things by rote.

The element of global danger is escalating at the speed of sound. Many hear the nauseating rhetoric of Donald Trump (the man who would set our society firmly on a path to the dark ages) and react to his hateful invective because on the surface he offers a solution to the issues that strike at the heart of what angers us. He garners support on the principal of mob mentality. The polls suggest an uncomfortably titanic number of people are stupid enough to fall for it. News reports of death and devastation abound everywhere; the United States is not the only target and is frequently the aggressor of the same destruction we rally against. We emphasize our thoughts and reactions from the standpoint of anger and hatred, but fail to infuse our thinking with intelligence. We employ the inelegant methods of a club-wielding troll. We do need to act. We do need to consider how best to dial back the ability of those who seek to do harm. We do need to change the way the country operates. Politicians are, for the most part, useless individuals at best, malcontent enablers at worst. They refuse to act on issues based on truth, honesty, and necessity; instead, they tout party lines, willfully ignorant – to our detriment. Most frightening to consider is that our elected officials lack the essential aptitude needed to deepen the quality of our country. They stand in positions to serve with bought and paid-for elections and by the grace of great campaign managers. So, they serve the masters of finance and corporate greed selling out the American people like the good puppets they are. We stand by and let it happen, time and again. Vote they say. That’s all well and good, but when the offerings are as useless as deciding what flavor of yogurt to have for breakfast, there is little opportunity for any significant change. Never has there been a time when it was more important to close the distance between what we feel and how we act. Not six months or a year from now, but RIGHT NOW.

Dig in, ask your friends, your family, people you work with: how do you FEEL. When someone asks you the same question, think hard on it. Tunnel down and figure it out, then tell them. Your challenge is to find the best method of delivery to effect a change. I’m a writer, the only tool in my arsenal is written expression. You must find your own way; don’t shirk on this responsibility. The only rule of the game is to consider all sides. Test yourself by asking if what you feel really makes sense. There was a common theme of apathy in movies and media in the 1970s; it clearly lingers in the 2000s. Don’t fall prey to that. I don’t care, nor is it important who originally coined the axiom, but it bears repeating: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. I’ve said it before, there is no cure for what ails us as a whole; there is a rising tide of terminally evil people. Sprinkling your dose of honesty and well-considered feelings on an expanding web of well-thinking and well-meaning people might abate the disease long enough that cooler heads prevail as we search for the elusive, and likely unattainable goal of peace and understanding.

So, how do you feel?

Making magic…

This blog post was by the man who brought a first reunion of our MFA alumni together with some stellar help – Thank you Darren, Lori, and Kat for this incredible gift. As our captain and mentor, Merle Drown suggested, writers are able to continue writing new novels after the first one because the confidence that you’ll get it done is there. We now all have the confidence that we will have many more reunions to come as a result of this. Writing is magic, and getting back into the bubble was like a trip back to Hogwarts…

Thoughtvomit

Trees retreat group shot

How do you make magic?  Since I don’t have a cauldron or a wand, and I am unfortunately all muggle, my method was less Prospero and more Field of Dreams.  “If you build it…”

This past weekend, twenty some odd writers gathered at a one hundred fifty year old farm house in the rural north country of New Hampshire.  It was the first reunion of Southern New Hampshire University’s MFA alumni.  These writers traveled from Oklahoma, Michigan, New York, Tennessee, and one even sneaked in from Canada.

The magic was not a slow build.  It did not need to percolate.  It burst upon us and just gained in power like a flywheel hurtling at maximum speed.  People who had not seen one another in years, or had never met, immediately curled into chairs and nooks and shared writing and ideas.

We called our grad school residencies “the bubble.”  In the bubble we were not…

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Alfheim – Gary Nilsen

When you write your heart out, to hear the kinds of things that this review says…well, that’s what it’s all about!!

mrsmamfa

Alfheim

I was given the opportunity to read Alfheim before it was released and if I’m honest I was a little hesitant given my past experience with free eBooks. When I started reading Alfheim I had to swallow my fears and hesitations because it wasn’t long into the plot and I was hooked. Alfheim follows the story of Timothy, a seventeen year old student who is struggling after losing his mother. He has hardly any friends and a few bullies willing to make his life hell in and outside of school. Just as he gives up hope and contemplates suicide a fairy saves him from his mundane life and himself, introducing him to a world he never knew existed and one that depends on him.

I really loved this plot, it was like nothing I’d read before, I haven’t read many fairy based plots but this book has made me want…

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