Patti Abbott is a writer, reader, blogger and humanist. Concrete Angel is her debut novel and it's received a *STARRED* Library Journal review. Here she's guest blogging, to be followed by our review of Concrete Angel. Patti has also published several short stories in a few different anthologies. She and I share a love of some authors and their books (see below). Patti has a pretty famous, best-selling daughter as well, but this post is about her and her wonderful novel that deals with child abuse and the various forms it can take. Here now, Patti Abbot:
Sometimes I'm asked which writers have meant the most to me. Since I read (and write) mostly fictional crime stories those asking are probably thinking of writers like Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith or Elizabeth George. Or maybe Margaret Millar and Charlotte Armstrong. Or perhaps male writers such as Nicholas Freeling or Ross McDonald. And it's true that these writers have influenced my choice of genre quite often. Criminals, and victims have always interested me. People who have been pushed to the wall. For instance Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's THE BLANK WALL makes the strong case that a story can be set almost entirely in a home and its suburban environs and that the pivotal character can be a completely devoted mother, (seemingly the most prosaic of characters) and work cogently. In this case she's on her own with her nearly adult children for the first time after her husband goes off to war and she's pushed to the wall by her daughter's choice of a fiancé. There are few better examples of domestic suspense than this one. Yes, all these writers, and so many others, influenced the world I write/read about. They've produced much of my reading material.
But there's another group of writers, writing a slightly different sort of story, that have meant much to me too. Anne Tyler has written about women (and men) much like the wife in Holding's masterpiece. I am thinking of THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST, for instance. In this novel, a travel writer, scarred by the murder of his son, rarely leaves his home, and it's eventually a dog walker who helps him find the courage to "travel" back into the world. Tyler's characters, and you can see her love for every one of them, are rich, quirky, real. It's that trait I admire most in her writing--her love of her characters--that I try to emulate. She gets inside their head, not content to merely focus on their actions. DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RETAURANT and CELESTIAL NAVIGATION explore similarly "messed up" people. As in crime fiction, the characters are flawed, but here they aren't thrust into a place where murder is the only solution. The outcome is less severe and either that satisfies you or it doesn't. In a great or very good writer, it does.
John Irving's work explores similarly messed up people. His most famous, and best work for me, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, looks at a man, (born to a woman impregnated in a most unusual way), is out of sync with the world from the start. The book is so full of unusual and absurd incidents, it's only the skilled writing that makes them credible. So too the characters in A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY or CIDER HOUSE RULES. How could a novel about an abortionist not meet what seems to be my standard of being about a "messed-up person?
A third writer who has influenced me greatly-and writes about people being pushed to their limits (but not quite over them) is Russell Banks. His brilliant novels about disengaged men: CONTINENTAL DRIFT and AFFLICTION are as dark as any novel by Derek Raymond. The familial relationship in AFFLICTION inflicts more terror on the reader than the more distance one between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lector in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. I would add Richard Yates, Richard Bausch and Ann Beattie to this list.
CONCRETE ANGEL attempts to draw on my reading of such novelists. An early review complained that not much happened after the first chapter. But to me, much happens, because every incident, small or large, inflicts pain on a child by a mother. Eve Moran is certainly a "messed up" person. Some of it from environmental circumstances but most of it mental illness and pure greed. And though she murders in the first pages of the book, a murderer is too easy and incomplete a definition of her. It's the things she does to her daughter that makes her a truly evil person.
Thanks for having me Charlie. And check out Charlie's wonderful blog here for great reviews of many of the books I have mentioned.
Library Journal *STARRED* Review for Concrete Angel: "(An) enthralling, dark debut novel...It’s a potent and at times poignant combination. Those who enjoy suspenseful, atmospheric family drama will find much to love here."
TK’s Review of Concrete Angel (by Patti Abbott) … the title comes from a song performed by Martina McBride (see above) about child abuse. Abbott’s novel is an engaging one that starts with a great opening line, a bang if you will: When I was twelve, my mother shot a soda-pop salesman she’d known less than eight hours.
From that opening line on, the novel proceeds to document the various stages of hording, larceny and relationships that well define sociopathy … all at the expense of first one child, then another.
Eve Moran is a mother from hell, using any and every one in her path to obtain what she wants, but what makes this femme fatale more interesting than a run of the mill murderess is her qualification (for the types of crimes she commits) as a bush leaguer, so to speak. She’s a grunt, a mucker, a player at the lower echelon of criminal behavior—the kind I most enjoy writing and reading about, because they speak to the most common form(s) of criminal behavior and therefore, they are the most realistic (verismo = realism/true to life).
Eve takes trinkets and bobbles. She lies, it seems, for the sake of practice (pathological?). Her booty is usually worthless until she steps up her game with the help of a new beau. Then its embezzlement and stealing from those most vulnerable—the elderly. Before her stepping up, the most innocent victim of her condition is her first child, her daughter Christine—who early on takes one for her mother.
The stages of Eve’s condition (or is it a genetic predisposition to crime?), begins early on in her upbringing. Constrained by social embarrassment, her parents ignore much of her antisocial behavior. When she marries into relative wealth, her first husband does the same, at least until the point where it he can no longer ignore the messes she creates. She does a couple of brief stints in a mental hospital, receives shock therapy, and like any true sociopath, she justifies her victimhood. Her next husband is no bargain either, and when his particular peccadilloes get in her way (like his obsession with tropical fish), she finds a way out of that mess by accident—getting pregnant.
It’s not that Eve recognizes her failings as a mother, as to why she doesn’t want another child, but she quickly realizes, with the help of another scam artist, that babies are great distractions/aids in the kinds of larceny she’s about to pursue. The concomitant crime she commits throughout the novel is the indifference she shows toward her daughter, Christine, the child left to mother her mother. Christine suffers the never ending residue of the crimes her mother commits, none worse than the lack of love and care her Eve shows for her. When it becomes apparent Eve is going to do the same thing to her son, Christine’s baby brother, a sprint toward adulthood and responsibility becomes overwhelming.
I’m curious how other readers will react to the two main characters in this verismo novel. Like Christine, early on I was rooting for Eve to come through and show signs of love somewhere along the way. Eve almost does it by showing concern for her daughter’s sudden interest in boys, except we quickly learn that it has more to do with the lack of control Eve will have over Christine than any genuine concern for her well-being.
I always prefer the real to the absurd and this novel portrays the reality of child abuse and how it doesn’t have to involve the physical. It’s a rare look into the plight of kids exploited by the sociopathic behavior of parent(s) never meant to be. Concrete Angel is an intelligent and revealing novel and Highly Recommended.
Huckabee the Hayseed … now the man of God is going out of his way to play to the Goobers who support him, the other hayseeds from America’s “Heartland” … here’s the “joke” the future wannabe President told at the 2015 National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville, Tennessee (the joke meant as a dig at Caitlyn Jenner and all other transgender people): "I'm pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, 'Coach, I think I'd rather shower with the girls today.' You're laughing because it sounds so ridiculous doesn't it?"
Oh, those religious types … they’re so jovial. He even found it funny that people would question the Reality TV freak show family (Duggars) he embraced (until he took them off his website this week). According to Huckabee and the parents of the boy who felt up his sisters … the boy “made a mistake” …
Oy vey …
Well, on the other hand, we have another two years of the GOP clown show to amuse us all.
Game 1 Recap … The Bolts came out like the kids who didn’t know they were supposed to lose. They electrified the crowd and took complete control of most of the 1st period, scoring on an incredible hand-eye coordination deflection by Alex Killorn from Anton Stralman. Towards the end of the first period, Chicago started to regain its composure, but Bishop and the Lightning defense kept them off the scoreboard.
In the second period, the Hawkettes were much more assertive getting pucks out of their zone and dumping pucks into the Lightning zone. They applied pressure except for power plays; the Bolts were terrific on the PK last night. Overall, the Hawkettes had more time possession in the second period, but the Bolts continued to frustrate them at every opportunity.
What happened in the third period remains a mystery. The Lightning looked as though they were comfortable playing prevent defense. The puck remained in their end, except for an occasional short rush and a single breakaway. One too many icings brought the puck right back into the Lightning zone and they paid for it. They played the Hawkettes like they played the Strangers, but the Hawkettes do not overpay any Rick Nash’s or Marty St. Louis’s. The Hawkettes stars show up. If you give any team enough chances, they’ll score, and the Hawkettes did it twice in two minutes. Somehow, after they scored the first one and tied the game, you knew it was going south from there. The last few minutes of the game, the Lightning applied pressure again, but to no avail. One has to wonder where the Lightning offensive pressure was after the first period, and/or why they waited until they were down a goal with less than four minutes in the game to start attacking again.
Now the Lightning need to ignore the statistics that are meaningless. Just ask Carey Price (Expos) and Henrik Lundqvist, and the rest of the New York Strangers. The Strangers won Game 1 vs. the Lightning, 2-1 also. It meant nothing. You win the game on the ice, not in the analyst’s booth. The Lightning should be well pissed-off at their third period lack of offense. When they watch the video of that third period, they’ll see themselves playing without purpose. They were content to loft the puck out of their zone without going to get it and keep it in Chicago’s end. The Lightning play best when they’re angry and they should be very angry for giving away game 1.
The only relevant statistic that does mean something is this: The Lightning can’t afford to lose every single home playoff game they play or they lose the Stanley Cup. Time to take two in-a-row from the Hawkettes.
Dogfella and Eddie’s World … for a limited time, if you visit James or present a proof of purchase of Dogfella to me (the ugly one), you’ll get a bonus … the newly republished Eddie’s World, by yours truly.
Reprint cover above. “Fresh, fast and darkly-funny. A sure-footed debut from a writer with a spare, no-nonsense prose style who can make you like characters you think you shouldn't.” – Kirkus *Starred* Review
Original hard cover above. “This is Charlie Stella’s first novel. Readers may be reminded, in both style and substance, of George V. Higgins’ underworld thrillers, especially the classic “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.” The comparison is not odious; Stella stacks up well against the master. He plots cleverly, keeps his finger firmly on the suspense button and moves the action along briskly. He is also blessed with a gift for dialogue, likely springing from his experience as an off-Broadway playwright.” – Robert Wade (San Diego Union Tribune)
Dogfella ... I'll be dropping off ten reprints of Eddie's World that James will give away free with a purchase of Dogfella this weekend ... Go Get Dogfella ...
Full review of Len Wanner’s terrific Tartan Noir next week …
Let’s Go Bolts!
Martina McBride, Concrete Angel …