A week and a half ago, I reviewed Owen King’s Double Feature as a blog post. I did that mainly because I couldn’t get it out of my head, so writing a review seemed like the most reasonable thing to do. But then it occurred to me: hey! I am writing a book. And I read books. And I blog. And when I read books I review them somewhere. Goodreads, Facebook, somewhere. Why not do that here, on my blog? So that’s what I’ll be doing from time to time. Totally makes sense, right?
Last weekend, I read Kelly Braffet’s 2005¹ debut novel Josie and Jack. Braffet is the wife of novelist Owen King, but that’s not why I decided to read her novel. I’d actually put it on my to-read list some time ago, when a friend recommended it to me. It moved to the top of the list when she tweeted her adventures with a new pair of purple Dr. Martens boots. (Attention, authors: I cannot guarantee that wearing purple Docs will get me to read your book. I can only say that it worked the once. I am notoriously fickle. Actually buying me a pair of purple Docs would probably do it, though.)
Obligatory description: Josie and Jack is a creepy, twisted coming-of-age story, told from the point of view of 16-year-old Josie. Imagine Hansel and Gretel, except the dad’s a physicist whose favorite hobbies include throwing raging tantrums and gleefully relishing the inevitable end of humanity. He has isolated his two teenage children (Josie and older brother Jack) from society since their earliest youth, leaving them unsupervised all week while he teaches three hours away, then conducting guerrilla homeschool on the weekends. What could possibly go wrong?
The first thing I noticed about Josie and Jack is that it is surprisingly short, something like 240 pages.² I will read fiction of any length, but I was a little concerned that the book’s brevity might be an indication of an incompletely told story. I needn’t have worried. It was just as long as it needed to be and no longer. Flipping through it now, I am surprised at how soon things happened, sooner than I remembered. Basically, it’s a 240-page novel that feels like 340 pages. The pacing is effortless, though it does get right to the point.
Braffet excels at creating atmosphere. The first page of the book, the first sentence, pulled me in. By page 10 I understood clearly that this was not going to end well for everyone involved. Before the end of the first chapter, I thought it might not end well for anyone involved. Whether it did or it didn’t, I won’t say, but I will say that considering how the story played out, the ending felt inevitable. The epilogue is a different story, and I’ll get to that shortly.
Reading, I was reminded of another book that had a heroine I liked, but not quite as much as I wanted to. That book was Survivor, by Tabitha King (who just happens to be the author’s mother-in-law; you cannot make this stuff up). In both cases, the characters made choices that made me wince—and yet, from their perspectives, I don’t know what else they could have done differently without some sort of deus ex machina intervention by the author, which would have been cheating. And I hate feeling cheated when I read … so really, it’s better this way. I guess sometimes it’s like the character Vera Donovan in Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne³ (another book that is all about very strong women) said: “Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman’s got to hold on to.”
So all that is fine. (I think certain people might argue with me about that, but that’s half the fun.) In fact, I almost loved this book unreservedly. Almost.
While I was reading, I completely bought everything that was happening, but after I was done, I kept thinking about the epilogue. About what it suggested, and whether or not that was a reasonable thing to suggest. And maybe it’s because I have watched too many episodes of CSI (probably less than 10, but really it doesn’t take more than one to grasp the concept), but … I’m not sure. I’m just not sure.
Still, it’s a fine book. Despite its faults (which might not be faults at all), I don’t hesitate to recommend it. I’ll certainly be reading her second novel Last Seen Leaving, as well as the new one she’s got coming out, Save Yourself.
¹Yeah, so … I don’t feel in any way compelled to only review new books. It’s best we get that out in the open now.
²Conveniently, it’s still on my desk, so I just verified that it is, in fact, 241 pages, including the epilogue, which is really part of the story proper.
³I KNOW. I know. But I can’t help it; it fits.