Full points to Ginnetta Correli. The Lost Episodes of Beatie Scareli could have fallen flat on its face with what story-wise is well-trod ground: a coming-of-age tale of a teenage girl. But her bent, the life of the misfortunate title-character as told in a series of vignettes that play more like episodes from a warped sitcom, is original, gritty, raw, and heartbreaking. It is growing-up story as an open wound.
The best example of this is when Beatie’s mom, convinced that she is Lucy Ricardo, goes to her daughter’s elementary school, dressed as a nurse (which she is indeed not), to threaten a teacher she believes has seduced Ricky (or rather Beatie’s actual father who she keeps referring to as Ricky). The shocked teacher, who is indeed not sleeping with Ricky, is no match for the sneak attack, and loses control quickly, along with an American flag that is quickly incorporated into Lucy’s rendition of “Babaloo.” Seen through Beatie’s eyes, you cringe with the child, and yet the absurdity can’t help but wrench a smile out of you.
Full disclosure: I know Ben Tanzer (although we’ve yet to meet in person) and will actually be reading with him at Freebird Books in Brooklyn, NY on September 28.
Some books have a way of winning you over. I remember the first time I picked up John Fante’s Wait Until Spring, Bandini. It was not Ask the Dust. When the former was written, the author had not developed into the great teacher of Bukowski that can be found in the latter. And yet, as I delved deeper and deeper into Wait Until Spring, Bandini, my perception of the novel changed. While the book is not a definitive example of Fante’s greatness as a writer (Ask the Dust is his most memorable book for a reason), it has great heart, it has soul. The scene of Bandini’s mother and father laying in bed together in the first chapter just about made me weep. It was a beautiful piece of writing. I was won over.
Ben Tanzer’s Lucky Man also won me over. Perhaps because the book starts so unsuspectingly, providing no grand opening or sudden launch into the action. It starts with a conversation — between the four main characters and the reader who serves as an impromptu listener of their life stories. But I think there is a simpler answer. There isn’t an ounce of pretense in Tanzer’s writing, something lacking among a lot of my peers. You never get the sense that Tanzer is trying too hard to convince you of his writing skill. His dialogue fits his characters. The situations always feel real. All of this helps the reader settle in and go along with what at first seems like a standard coming-of-age story. Continue reading