By Angela Savage Text Publishing 2013 Jayne Keeney is not your typical detective. As her author so deftly puts it on page 1 of this page-turning book, even her physical description defies the stereotype. Jayne, in her lover and partner Rajiv’s arms, has a moment of narcissistic pleasure when she thinks, “Being soft, white and fat had never felt so good.” People, place and purpose of the story are set in this first chapter. We learn that Jayne, a private investigator based in Thailand, has gone into business with her boyfriend, and they’re now on vacation in the resort area of Krabi, on the Andaman Sea. When they go to book a day trip with their favorite tour guide, they learn she is dead. Bodies pile up, the police aren’t interested, and Jayne’s relationship becomes frayed. That’s all classic detective drama, yet Savage keeps reminding us that Jayne is no typical private eye. With a nod to those of us who find expectations for female dress and behavior suffocating, even in fiction, this author gives us a wonderful picture of Jayne. A man named Paul “expected someone glamorous, not the frump who met him at the guesthouse reception desk…She couldn’t have been more than thirty-five, but her clothes were the sort his grandmother might wear.” Jayne isn’t the slightest bit interested in feminism, or its opposite, glamour, but just gets on with the job. One of the glories of Angela Savage’s writing is her gift for physical description. We see dazzling beaches, snake farms, orchids, braziers sizzling with barbequed food, mosquito-deterring curtains of stringed shells. Dialogue is interspersed with Thai phrases whose meaning is apparent. Corruption and beauty intermingle. It was in her class on scene and setting that I met the delightful Angela Savage. She was visiting the U.S. for the very first time, she said, as a presenter at the Arizona State University’s Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference. (See Angela’s blog on the conference and shared on my Facebook post) Angela, a former community aid worker in Asia, started winning awards with her first book, Behind The Night Bazaar, before it was even published. The Dying Beach is her third novel. I hope there will be many more.
My experience with book clubs has been enjoyable, but as guides to reading fiction, they’ve tended to go off the point. Depending on the quality of the food, or let’s just blame the wine (both always necessary!), the discussion meanders into participants' marital problems, politics, or neighborhood gossip. Great, bonding evenings. Many book groups have lasted for years. It matters little if participants like the book or pan it, the novel is often just the excuse for getting together. That’s all wonderful, and was for me, too, until a friend suggested me that being a writer must spoil the experience of reading, because it would become too analytical. Not true. I can get swept up in the power of good prose just as much as I ever did. It’s just that now I know that every sentence did not get there by magic – it was planned. Now that I review fiction and try to write it as well as I can, I’ve found that “book club questions” (for those that actually ask them) really help in thinking about a novel. I found these from a site called LitLovers.com. The most interesting thing for me as a writer, is that these questions sharpened my thinking about how to put a story together, or at an even earlier stage, how to pre-write a novel. LitLovers.com questions 1, 4 and 7 are questions only the reader can answer. But as a writer I can see I have to ask questions 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8 before I even put a word to paper. Do these questions help you in figuring out how a novel works? 1. How did you experience the book? Were you engaged immediately, or did it take you a while to “get into it”? How did you feel reading it—amused, sad, disturbed, confused, bored…? 2. Describe the main characters—personality traits, motivations, and inner qualities. • Why do characters do what they do? • Are their actions justified? • Describe the dynamics between characters (in a marriage, family, or friendship). • How has the past shaped their lives? • Do you admire or disapprove of them? • Do they remind you of people you know? 3. Are the main characters dynamic—changing or maturing by the end of the book? Do they learn about themselves, how the world works and their role in it? 4. Discuss the plot: • Is it engaging—do you find the story interesting? • Is this a plot-driven book—a fast-paced page-turner? • Does the plot unfold slowly with a focus on character? • Were you surprised by complications, twists & turns? • Did you find the plot predictable, even formulaic? 5. Talk about the book’s structure. • Is it a continuous story… or interlocking short stories? • Does the time-line move forward chronologically? • Does time shift back & forth from past to present? • Is there a single viewpoint or shifting viewpoints? • Why might the author have chosen to tell the story the way he or she did? • What difference does the structure make in the way you read or understand the book? 6. What main ideas—themes—does the author explore? (Consider the title, often a clue to a theme.) Does the author use symbols to reinforce the main ideas? (See the free LitCourses on both Symbol and Theme.) 7. What passages strike you as insightful, even profound? Perhaps a bit of dialog that’s funny or poignant or that encapsulates a character? Maybe there’s a particular comment that states the book’s thematic concerns? 8. Is the ending satisfying? If so, why? If not, why not… and how would you change it? Thanks, LitLovers.com for putting together this thoughtful list!