- Fizzy Thoughts: Precious


Monday, May 04, 2009

Sandra Novack
270 pages

Bear with me, because I’ve been trying to figure out how to start this review for days. That’s because today I am very pleased to be a TLC tour stop for Sandra Novack and her debut novel, Precious. But I’m also afraid I’m going to come across like a total goombah in writing this review.

Because I loved this book. And I want to be able to say more than that, because Sandra and her book deserve so much more. I just can’t figure out where to start. So this may come across as disjointed ramblings…but let’s just see where my ramblings take us, shall we?

First, a synopsis. Lucky for me, there’s already one floating around:

The summer of 1978, ten-year-old Vicki Anderson rides her bike to the local park and goes missing. Her tight-knit blue-collar Pennsylvania neighborhood, where children roam the streets at night playing lightning tag, above ground pools sparkle in backyards, and flowers scent the air, will never be the same.

Down the street from Vicki’s house, another family is in crisis. Troubled by her past, headstrong Natalia Kisch has abandoned her husband and two daughters for another man. Frank Kisch, grappling with his anger, is left to raise their girls alone, oblivious to his daughters’ struggles with both disappearances: Eva, seventeen, plunges into an affair with her married high school teacher, and nine-year-old Sissy escapes to a world of imagination and storytelling that becomes so magical it pierces the reality of the everyday.

When Natalia unexpectedly returns, the struggles and tensions that have built over the summer erupt into a series of events that change the Kisches irrevocably—forcing them to piece together their complicated pasts and commitments to each other.

In this haunting, atmospheric debut, Sandra Novack examines loss, loyalty, and a family in crisis. Lyrical and elegiac, Precious illuminates our attempts to make sense of the volatility that surrounds and consumes us, and explores our ability, even during the most trying times, to remember and hold on to those we love most.

And really, this is one of the best synopsis I have ever read. I always feel like I’m cheating when I borrow a synopsis, but in this case, I think it does such a marvelous job of capturing both the story and the writing, it would be a shame for me to try to summarize it in any other way. I’ve heard that the child goes missing subject has turned some people off this book. I would argue that while that sets the stage for the novel, it is a small part of the book. Yes, it’s there, and it happens, and we are reminded of it, but ultimately, this book is about the Kisch family. And that’s where I’m going to go next.

Frank Kisch is the father, and he is struggling with things that are all too common. His wife leaves him, his eldest daughter is embarrassingly out of control, his job is in jeopardy. Although this book is set in the late 1970’s, Frank’s troubles transcend decades. Also, on a lighter note, I need to say that I have such a clear picture of Frank in my head…and he looks just like the dad from "The Wonder Years"…big, burly and angry. I don’t usually associate characters of novels with TV characters, or even real-life individuals, but I just can’t get the image of Frank as The Wonder Years dad out of my head. Which is probably why he's stuck with me, even though while reading the book I was more invested in the stories of Eva and Sissy.

And while I’m on the topic of ruining Sandra Novack’s characters, I’ll add that Natalia would be Nastassja Kinski…sort of fragile looking, but also edgy and elusive.

I’ll spare you my imaginings of the rest of the characters (only because my mind stopped with Nastassja and The Wonder Years dad), but I will say that the characters are what made me love this book so much. They are flawed, but they are real. And they are oh so easy to imagine. And in my newly acknowledged “characters are everything” mood, this is so important for a book’s success with me.

Okay, I’m definitely rambling, so let’s move on to the end of the book. And no, I’m not going to tell you what happens, but I am going to make a few comparisons, so if you are at all worried, move along to the next paragraph. Just like the characters, the end of this novel is real. Although the books are totally different, it reminds me of another recent favorite, Half of a Yellow Sun. Because honestly? That’s real life, whether we like it or not. Also, if you’ve read the book, you should go check out the Q&A’s on the author’s website…it offers some additional insight to the ending.

There is an excerpt from Precious available at the Random House website. You should go read that, too, so you can appreciate how beautifully written this novel is. Weeks ago I provided a quote from the book for Teaser Tuesday. Although I don’t think the quote reflects the intent of the book, or even the story, it is entertaining:

"My advice," Milly says, pointing a fork, "is always find a man who wears polyester. It's a fabric you can trust on a man."

One of the reasons this is such a favorite quote of mine is that it shows how Sandra's writing creates pictures in my head. Because I don’t know about you, but I’ve got the perfect image of fussy, uptight Milly in my mind. And she's wearing polyester, too.

Two more things that I’ve got floating around in mind. The cover and the title. I love the cover, and since I tend to blather often about covers, you might recall how important cover art is to me. The image of the vanishing young woman is so reflective of one of the themes of this book...I think it is just perfect. The title though...I'm afraid I had to put up with Gollum whispering preciousssss in my ear for most of the book. Sorry....but you know I'm all about honesty in reviewing.

So, in summary, two thumbs up. Unless you're hesitant about the missing child storyline (because really, if you're worried about it, it will stand out, although like I said before, it isn't the focus of the book), I'd really encourage you to give this one a try, especially if you love character driven novels that also have a strong story behind them. I think this would also be an excellent book to discuss, particularly around family relationships.

Finally, I just realized that I’m the first stop on this blog tour (ack!). Good thing I didn’t know that before I started writing this post. Oh well, at least I set the bar low for the rest of the reviewers...because really, I think I just rambled like I 've never rambled before. So, make sure you check out the rest of the tour stops. I'm sure there will be more insightful things written. And also guest posts from the author.

Wednesday, May 6th: Book, Line, and Sinker
Thursday, May 7th: Redlady’s Reading Room
Monday, May 11th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Wednesday, May 13th: Bookworm with a View
Thursday, May 14th: Pop Culture Junkie
Monday, May 18th: Literate Housewife
Friday, May 22nd: Booking Mama
Tuesday, May 26th: Book Addiction
Friday, May 29th: Diary of an Eccentric

And for my final finally, here's some author info for you:

Sandra Novack’s fiction has appeared in The Iowa Review, The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, and Mississippi Review, among other publications. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times, and holds an MFA from Vermont College. She is the author of the novel Precious. Novack currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, Phil, and many animals.

11 comment(s):

Jo-Jo said...

Thanks for sharing such a great review...you have definitely sparked my interest! I remember laughing when I read that Teaser Tuesday post.

bermudaonion said...

I can't help but want to read the book after that review. Wow!

LisaMM said...

I must not be much like Milly because I don't trust polyester on a man!

I'm so glad you liked Precious! I'll be reading it soon. I really like the cover too and think it's more beautiful in person.

Thanks for hosting, Jill!

Dar said...

Whenever you think you're just blathering and not writing a good review-it always turns out that you are. You've sparked my interest and I had already been interested in this one-just didn't have space this month. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Ti said...

Far from rambling... really. The only thing is that now I too, shall hear "preciousssss" when reading this one :)

No Name Me said...

If it makes anyone feel better, my husband, Phil, mocked me for months and months about the title; and he, too, did the "pppprrreeccciooouuusss"
Lord of the Ring thing, like all the time!!!

Thanks for the kind, thoughtful review, Fizzy Thoughts.

All Best,
Sandy Novack
(I wrote the thing that is the book)

Beth F said...

Super review. And it's going right on my wish list. Too preeeeeeciousssss.

Melody said...

Great review, Jill! Now you've definitely piqued my curiosity... off to check this book in a moment!

Joanne said...

Terrific review! This one is going on my tbr list, it sounds like one of those books that sucks you right in from the start - and I love those!

booklineandsinker said...

i also reviewed this book for TLC (todady) and LOVED it. the language was so beautiful and the characters were well developed. i'm happy you also enjoyed this one! i can't wait to see what sandra novack comes up with next!

softdrink said...

Sandy - thanks for stopping by. I'm glad I'm not the only one whispering preciousssss!

booklineandsinker - yay! another fan!!

So see...the rest of you need to read this right now! ;-b

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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