Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Second novels and second seasons truly show the virtues of patience

I recently finished reading Ann Packer's second novel,Songs Without Words,and while it was vastly different from her debut,The Dive From Clausen's Pier,there was plenty to enjoy and slowly savor. Oddly enough,after I completed the book,I had a conversation with a friend about the current season of Heroes and it brought to mind a few comparsions with Songs Without Words.

"Are you serious? How in the world can you find any connect between an Ann Packer novel and some TV show about people with superpowers?!" Glad you asked that question,friend and here is my answer: both are follow-ups to previous successes given high expectations by fans who are now complaining about the pacing of the stories,which was considered to be one of it's strengths.

I'm not saying that folks don't have the right to be dissatified with a book,movie or TV series that doesn't give them the same thrill as before. Sometimes,they're right about the quality of the second,third or fourth work that the artist has put out there. However, I do have to wonder at why one of the major bones of contention is one of the things that most people liked about the writing earlier.

The Dive From Clausen's Pier was a book that I discovered during my lunchtime reading at my former bookseller job;it became a regular habit of mine to select a few ARCs to only read during my noon breaks and Packer's novel pretty much knocked me off my feet. It was one of those books that made me love to find and read first novels,so that I could be amongst the first to spread the good word about it to readers and friends alike.

When I heard about Packer having a new book out this year,I was excited about the news and even after some of the reviews were giving it a mixed reception,I still wanted to check it out for myself. Songs Without Words deals with characters much older than the heroine of Clausen's Pier and somewhat darker issues.

It's leading ladies are Liz and Sarabeth,who have been friends since their youth. Part of their bond was strongly formed after Sarabeth's mother committed suicide while both girls were in their teens. When Liz's daughter Lauren makes a similar attempt,the impact of that present action thrusts Sarabeth into inactive despair about the past and startles Liz out of her routine complancy about her family and marriage.

The bulk of the book has the two women mostly apart,as they re-examine their lives and the true basis of their friendship as well as deal with the shock of Lauren's near fatal decision and what that means to them. Alot of those chapters may have seen to be too slow and meandering to some,much like a good number of the plotlines introduced on Heroes this year(Hiro's journey to feudal Japan,Peter losing his memory and wandering about Ireland,Maya and Alejandro's journey to America for answers)but if you really stop and take a step back to look at the big picture,things become more clear and focused as you go on.

For example,even I felt that Hiro was taking too long to return from Ye Olde Japan at first and yet,we did gain some insight into Kensai/Adam Monroe,who was assumed by Hiro and the audience to be a legendary hero. Turns out that he became embittered after discovering that his intended princess was really in love with Hiro(and vice versa) and believed that he had been lead down the garden path,only to be shafted in the end. All of that lead to Kensai vowing revenge against his former friend and spending the rest of his long life trying to destroy the world via manipulating other super powered folks with ties to the one person he hated the most.

It took some time to get there,but now the audience and Hiro are much more invested in Kensai's character and more aware of what his true intentions are. This labored build up of who Kensai is and the motivation behind his schemes will hopefully pay off during the upcoming finale of Heroes next week,along with Sylar's steady hand at corrupting Maya and Peter's attempt to prevent a deadly virus from decimating all of humanity. Yes, it could've been done sooner and swifter but would we really care as much about the end game if we didn't develop some rooting interests during the warm ups?

While many reviewers have appreciated what Packer has done in SWW,some are rather peeved at how long the book takes to get where it's going. I get that,but on the other hand,Packer is a writer of realistic tones and many things in real life take a long time to happen. One of the most memorable sequences in the book to me was when Sarabeth was sick of spending her nights alone and impulsively decides to drive out somewhere for dinner. She can't figure out where to go or what to do and winds up driving out to the middle of nowhere,in search of an old haunt of hers and Liz's. The place is long gone and Sarabeth's dinner out turns into devouring a supermarket rotisserie chicken alone in a parking lot,behind the wheel of her car.

Not a big dramatic moment yet it showcases the loneliness and self enclosed emotional prison that Sarabeth has put herself into,which leads to her being motivated to expand her circle of friends and jumpstart her creativity and life. Packer also devels into Lauren's character,giving her confusion and depression a full form that refuses to make Lauren a Girl,Interrupted cliche and also takes time to recover and refocus her life.

So,while Heroes and Songs Without Words may seem to have as much in common as chalk and cheese,they are actually two great tastes that taste great together. All that's required to fully enjoy both are some patience with the pace of the prose. As the hare found out,slow and steady wins the race.

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