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Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Questions for the Editor

I have been extremely impressed, Josh (if I may be on a first name basis with you) by your extensive comments here, and the fact that you can be very respectful of others opinions while still being free to express your own views intelligently and firmly but not forcefully. Mr. O'Nan is fortunate to have you as his editor and representative.

I had not heard of O'Nan before he the First Look club, and nor had my mother in law, who reads much more modern fiction than I do (much, though far from all, my reading is in the classics). While waiting for my ARC copy of Songs to arrive I did read Night of the Lobster. So in this case, you were right in thing that one benefit to his participating in the First Look program would be to introduce even an established writer to a broader audience.

I am somewhat in the middle of those who loved the book and those who didn't care for it. I found the first third or so quite powerful and involving, and was ready to give the book full praise. But I felt that the middle dragged, and the ending, having Mimi find the body, seemed contrived, almost deus-ex-machina, as though O'Nan felt that he had to bring the book to an end somehow and couldn't find any better way to do it.

The beginning was heavily action-oriented, and educated me about an issue that, though I am a parent of children not that far past their late teens living in a small town, I had never really thought about. As the action focus dissipated, though, I expected a stronger focus on character development than I found. There didn't seem to be that much focus to the story, which sort of faded away like the songs where the singers keep singing their hearts out while the mixer gradually brings down the volume to nothing.

But I am glad to have had the chance to encounter Mr. O'Nan, and as I said at the start of this post, have greatly enjoyed and appreciated the time and energy you have provided to the readers here.
_______________
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BookSavage
Posts: 108
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Re: Questions for the Editor



vivico1 wrote:

Josh_Kendall wrote:


vivico1 wrote:

This is how I felt too but was going to ask the author, but it would be good to have your take on it too. We appreciate you being here. It did seem to be a very emotional story told unemotionally. I couldn't really connect with anyone, so by mid book, I really didn't care and that's hard to say given the topic. I found myself finishing it just to find out what happened to Kim.

There are several of us that agree(on the narration style thread and other places) that since the richness of emotions from so many characters involved in something like this, wasn't really tapped into, that if perhaps it had been told in first person narrative by Lindsay (to me she is the lost daughter in the family who would be writing about the missing daughter), would be a really intriguing and much more emotional book. Then the other characters we could get to know this way, as they were written here. It just seems to skim the surface but never really hits. This may still be a better question for O'Nan, but as an editor, was anything like this ever discussed? For me, it really wasn't any different than any other story about someone going missing and it never really drew me in, when the character and emotional story of all these people involved could have made an amazing story if we were really allowed inside them, or at least one. Lindsay was the one we did get enough of a glimpse of and what she thought, that her take on this would have been fascinating.


Vivian,
Sorry of course that you too felt unrewarded by the book, and in your defense, I can't imagine only reading this book to see what happened to Kim. To me this book is about everyone but Kim, and why the discovery of her remains would in itself need to feel so unsatisfying. Thrillers and mystery novels do this sort of thing particularly well, but I never wanted Stewart's novel to be a thriller or a mystery.

A few people have written about the "shared" structure of the book, and about that shared structure in relation to their connection with Lindsay. I love Lindsay, and also felt that I wanted to be so much more a part of her life. But the book wasn't hers, and while I'm sure Stewart could have written a fine and affecting novel about a girl who's older sister goes missing, he wanted something that moved in more rooms of that house, so to speak. That took each of the characters' emotional lives to task, and forced us to see each of their reactions and decisions on the equal ground of third person observation. I also wonder if Lindsay would be quite so poignant if she was given more space in the book.

If you want the single viewpoint on that classic American family gothic, you might want to check out Stewart's first novel, SNOW ANGELS. It's about a 14 year old boy dealing with his troubled family and his feelings over his ex-babysitter's murder. It's a darker book, and a younger book. But your connection with any of the characters can only come through the narrator, and maybe that's the sort of concentrated viewpoint you're looking for.


thanks for answering Josh. I was interested in this book initially because it sounded like it was going to be a character study of those affected by such an event and death, not a murder mystery to solve and so it was going to be different for me, from the thrillers I do read. I love character studies too tho, so I was really excited. What people do, think and feel when something special or something horrible happens can, depending on how written, can really get you inside them. And third person allows you to get inside everyone equally, which would have been wonderful for this story, but it just didn't seem to have much depth that way, it just kind of wandered around their feelings, not quite tapping into them. I think the closest it came for me, was with Lindsay. We did get a better look at how this affected her than about anyone else, emotionally that is, and there were plenty this could have been done with, with the parents and all of her friends, but they all seemed like spectators and so altho I could sympathize with them, I could not empathize at all. With it coming close when Lindsay was talked about, that may be why most who felt if it had been first person narrative, she was the one to go with. I can't speak for their reasons but the commonality of who we picked, makes me think this may be why. This is not to say it should have been first person at all, I wanted third person narration to really get inside more than one of these people.

When I say, I found myself just wanting to find out what happened to Kim, it was not that way at first, that was only secondary to the story, but about half way through, I wanted to know because I started to not care about the others. I hope you understand that I am not trying to trash the book or author or anything like that, but since you are here and you have us, some avid readers here, I want to share with you how the book really felt to me anyway. Again, I appreciated your answering, I really wasn't looking for a mystery or thriller in this one, but characters written in such a way as to draw me right into each one of them and what this must be like for them. It kind of felt more like a news story instead. I got the idea about what happened, and the general feelings that might be talked about but, well I don't know how else to put it. I just know that about half way through is when I realized this is what was missing for me. Thanks again for your time.


I couldn't have said it any better.  I was through with the novel half way through it, but just finished it to finish it.  I wanted to know what happened to Kim, but it was very anti-climatic.
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BookSavage
Posts: 108
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Re: Questions for the Editor



Josh_Kendall wrote:


BookSavage wrote:
Like so many others, I want to say thank you for joining us.  This week is always one of the most enjoyable things about first look.  My question is a little different from others, but something that I am truly curious about.  I found this novel to be very cut and dried and lacking in any real emotional pull.  When I read about the subject matter I expected that due to being a father and a teacher the emotions of this book would be very intense, but rather I felt very removed from the characters.  I was wondering if this was recognized by you and appreciated or just accepted as the way the book is written?


Message Edited by BookSavage on 06-11-2008 09:06 AM


Well I can't say that it was appreciated or accepted by me, only because that question leads me into justifying what you mean by "it." Your reservations about this book are your own, even if they're similarly shared by others. But since I never saw the book as cut and dried, or lacking in emotional pull, I couldn't say that I was recognizing the book would be perceived as cut and dried.

I can bolster my praising observations for the novel to counter your own impression, but you're permitted to feel disconnected just as I'm permitted to feel engaged. I'll say that the book has a tone, and that tone is measured, careful, and quiet. For me, I liked the combination of reserve with such a typically melodramatic subject. I watched those tearful, screaming parents on a movie-of-the-week; or the vengeful father hunting down his daughter's killer on the last Law & Order episode; or the confused younger sibling who resorts to various shocking, risky behaviors to indirectly deal with her feelings over her sister's death.

Your own background in teaching and parenthood could lead you to feeling removed from that tone, just as my background leads me to connecting to that same tone.

I'm sorry you didn't feel more enlivened by the book, BookSavage, but yes after 10 or so years of reading Stewart's novels and 3 years editing them and the last year editing this one, I'd probably say that I gave a good amount of thought and consideration to the impression of this novel's tone would make for the reader.


Thanks for responding with such depth.  I hope that others are able to enjoy the book as you have, but I appreciate your repsect for my opinion that the book just did not live up to its potential.
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detailmuse
Posts: 180
Registered: ‎01-24-2008
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Re: Questions for the Editor

Interesting, thanks. I guess my tendency has been to read novels without many real-life references ... they can be characterizing, but they surprise me (products and people, especially), and pull me out of the story a bit.
 
Using them seems to have evolved from near-trademark infringement -- Kimberly-Clark still takes out ads in writer's magazines to warn that "tissue" is an item and "Kleenex" is a brand, with legal protections  :smileymad:  -- to companies now clamoring (in film, even paying) for product placement.

Josh_Kendall wrote:

detailmuse wrote:
Hi Josh, thanks for joining us here. I'm wondering if there are editorial considerations to using brand names, real-people's names, or real locations in a novel?

I tend to feel that generally speaking it's a mistake to use real people's names, though don't particularly mind if someone from the culture at large is named. I edit the kind of books I like to read, and the kind of books I like to read name the musician singing on the car radio instead of saying they listed to pop music. Those details have their place, though; and there's a reason WHITE NOISE or AMERICAN PSYCHO should have product names listed on every page and Stewart's work should not.

Not sure if I answered your question, detailmuse. It's different with every book for me, really. I'm big on place, though: I really wanted to know that this town was out there, in Ohio, close to Pennsylvania, and on the lake. I wanted to know the number of the highway running through it, and the last time his character could remember the Indians having a winning season.

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Josh_Kendall
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Re: Questions for the Editor

Completely understand, Vivian. One of the great things about literature is its various singularities, its ability to hit so many different people in so many different ways. Your feelings about Stewart's tone are my feeling about Penelope Fitzgerald's, another literary author widely admired and beloved. I even tend to think, both as an editor and a reader, when there's a literary novel that seems to be universally loved and appreciated. Too many of us avid readers (as you nicely described us) have been given the tools by book reviewers, media outlets, and now perhaps blogs, to judge and even feel fiction. They're not our tools, often, and this seems to show when people lavish praise that seems pat or histrionic.

The great thing about First Look is that we have the forum to move past that.
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LisaMM
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Re: Page 263

[ Edited ]

Josh_Kendall wrote:


ABH47 wrote:
Please correct your error on page 263.
The correct terminology is
SAFE deposit box, not "safety" deposit box!
Feel free to call and ask any bank. You have a box which is put into their SAFE, not into their 'safety'.
This is a pet peeve of mine, and I really hope you will correct this before publication.
Thank you!

Sentence where this occurs:
"This morning they'd opened two safety(sic) deposit boxes Wade kept under an alias in Michigan."


I have to kick this question over to Stewart, who I know gives great attention to parlance, regional ticks and dialect, etc. I seem to recall this coming up, either in the editing or copyediting, but Stewart can clarify? This may have been a E. Ohio/W. Penn sort of thing, and in a way Stewart was careful enough with the phrasing of so much else that he earned my own trust, at the very least, that he saw this as a regional phrasing. Stewart?




I grew up in Michigan and people there always said 'safety deposit box' right or wrong!

Message Edited by LisaMM on 06-12-2008 07:00 AM
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vivico1
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Re: Questions for the Editor


Josh_Kendall wrote:
Completely understand, Vivian. One of the great things about literature is its various singularities, its ability to hit so many different people in so many different ways. Your feelings about Stewart's tone are my feeling about Penelope Fitzgerald's, another literary author widely admired and beloved. I even tend to think, both as an editor and a reader, when there's a literary novel that seems to be universally loved and appreciated. Too many of us avid readers (as you nicely described us) have been given the tools by book reviewers, media outlets, and now perhaps blogs, to judge and even feel fiction. They're not our tools, often, and this seems to show when people lavish praise that seems pat or histrionic.

The great thing about First Look is that we have the forum to move past that.


You are so right about that. Whether it is a play, a movie, or a book, if the reviewers say it is good, or something like "true art fans" or "the most discerning people" will appreciate this work, then people start saying its great just to be "in". I like some of the classics, but certainly not all for example, but I have been called unsophisticated for not liking some. I rarely read a review of a book or author before I read it, just the jacket or back to see what it is about. I never read movie reviews until after a movie and then only if I didnt like it lol. So I like the first look club because, if its a first book, there really are no reviews anyway and with this book, I read only that O'Nan had written before, but did not read anymore about his work at the time so that I could look at this singularly and with my own eyes and impressions. It's a great place for people to see what they really enjoy themeselves, tho I know there are more here who have read that may not be as comfortable at posting, or may feel that pressure of saying something different from what they read the majority write. But even so, we all come away with something.
Vivian
~Those who do not read are no better off than those who can not.~ Chinese proverb
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umlaut
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Re: Questions for the Editor

On Page 73 "In bed, with the light out..." this paragraph needs some work. To me this part of the story felt rushed. Lindsay just suddenly decides to be stronger and more determined to face the world instead of hiding behind the shadow of her older sister (kim).
Overall i am very satisfied with the editing. good work!
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pigwidgeon
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Re: Questions for the Editor

Mr. Kendall:

How wonderful of you to be so attentive and thoughtful to the questions of our group. Your answers add quite a bit of insight to the process of this book. I must say, I am one who agrees with the comments of BookSavage and vivico1. I have come to the conclusion that I MUST read more of Mr. O'Nan's work. I read a lot of non-fiction and am recently giving modern fiction a thorough look-over. I hadn't heard of Mr. O'Nan until he was introduced to this group. I really enjoyed his writing style and the concept of looking at the story from many different perspectives, though I have concluded that the story-line itself is not for me. That's why there are all kinds of books, right?

I did want to make it clear, that I thank you for introducing me to an author who I think I will continue to read more of (due to his great style), allowing us an early look at a new book, and being so generous with your time and insight.
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BookWoman718
Posts: 220
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Re: Questions for the Editor

Mr. Kendall, to add one more word of thanks, I really appreciate your joining this forum and the thoughtfulness with which you reply. I happen to be one of those fortunate readers that had read several of O’Nan’s earlier books, looked forward with excitement to his being available to us here, and then felt utterly fulfilled in the actual reading. I really felt drawn in by the quiet nature of the telling; didn’t feel any need for more descriptions of what I could only too well imagine. Joining in the discussions here, and respecting the thoughtful comments of other readers, forces me to examine my own reactions more thoroughly than I would if I were just enjoying the book alone. I think perhaps O’Nan made me feel as though I were there, a neighbor, or a work associate, able to observe first one and then another of Kim’s family and friends, getting glimpses inside their heads from time to time, but never in an omniscient way. And most of all, just to grieve with them, knowing how they must be feeling, rooting for them to come through this, and understanding the frailties that will undermine their efforts to stay useful and brave and available to one another. So the writing style put me inside the story.

Being one of those who sucks it up in a crisis, I completely understood how Fran’s need to ‘do something’ would lead her to take on a full-time job of sorts, the media face whose pleas might keep the public interested and lead to a break in the case. ( I long ago realized that my role model for grief had been Jackie Kennedy. Before her husband’s death I was very young and had suffered no deaths in my own family, and the images of her behavior at that time have never left me. The lesson: even in grievous loss, one need not break down in public hysteria. One‘s heart can shatter perfectly well in private, to hell with satisfying all the prying eyes.)

The only question I would have for you is, Did the use of Mimi in the story line cause any editorial discussion? The way in which Kim’s body was found was the only plot point that brought me up short. There had to have been some reason why O’Nan inserted a lone obsessive searcher into the story instead of writing it the way bodies are usually found: randomly, by some wandering hikers or whatever, who were probably scared silly when they saw human remains. Was it to show that this family, with their never-give-up attitude, were really right to stay ‘bogged down’ in the search, and that long-shot efforts really can pay off? Was it simply to show that there can be others out there in the world who may be deeply affected by a tragedy, but who are unknown even to the closest survivors? Although ‘brought up short’ by Mimi, I was once again right there inside the story; Kim’s family was clearly brought up short as well, surprised that someone else had made “their“ cause so thoroughly her own. .

Thank you again for your efforts with this book, and for joining us here. I’ve just picked up “Everyday People” so even though I didn’t need the introduction to O‘Nan, you’ve encouraged me to continue the friendship.

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tigger27
Posts: 14
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Re: Questions for the Editor

Mr. Kendall,
 
Thank you for joining us!  Like a few other readers I had not heard of Stewart O'Nan's work prior to First Look.  I'm very excited to read more of his work now after reading Songs for the Missing.  You mentioned that you have been reading his work for 10 years, were you a fan of his work before you started editing for him? 
 
When looking for my next book to read from Mr. O'Nan it seems that he has written about so many different topics.  Is it harder editing different topics from the same writer or easier because you know their writing style?
 
Thanks again!
Shelly
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Josh_Kendall
Posts: 17
Registered: ‎06-05-2008
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Re: Questions for the Editor



BookWoman718 wrote:

Mr. Kendall, to add one more word of thanks, I really appreciate your joining this forum and the thoughtfulness with which you reply. I happen to be one of those fortunate readers that had read several of O’Nan’s earlier books, looked forward with excitement to his being available to us here, and then felt utterly fulfilled in the actual reading. I really felt drawn in by the quiet nature of the telling; didn’t feel any need for more descriptions of what I could only too well imagine. Joining in the discussions here, and respecting the thoughtful comments of other readers, forces me to examine my own reactions more thoroughly than I would if I were just enjoying the book alone. I think perhaps O’Nan made me feel as though I were there, a neighbor, or a work associate, able to observe first one and then another of Kim’s family and friends, getting glimpses inside their heads from time to time, but never in an omniscient way. And most of all, just to grieve with them, knowing how they must be feeling, rooting for them to come through this, and understanding the frailties that will undermine their efforts to stay useful and brave and available to one another. So the writing style put me inside the story.

Being one of those who sucks it up in a crisis, I completely understood how Fran’s need to ‘do something’ would lead her to take on a full-time job of sorts, the media face whose pleas might keep the public interested and lead to a break in the case. ( I long ago realized that my role model for grief had been Jackie Kennedy. Before her husband’s death I was very young and had suffered no deaths in my own family, and the images of her behavior at that time have never left me. The lesson: even in grievous loss, one need not break down in public hysteria. One‘s heart can shatter perfectly well in private, to hell with satisfying all the prying eyes.)

The only question I would have for you is, Did the use of Mimi in the story line cause any editorial discussion? The way in which Kim’s body was found was the only plot point that brought me up short. There had to have been some reason why O’Nan inserted a lone obsessive searcher into the story instead of writing it the way bodies are usually found: randomly, by some wandering hikers or whatever, who were probably scared silly when they saw human remains. Was it to show that this family, with their never-give-up attitude, were really right to stay ‘bogged down’ in the search, and that long-shot efforts really can pay off? Was it simply to show that there can be others out there in the world who may be deeply affected by a tragedy, but who are unknown even to the closest survivors? Although ‘brought up short’ by Mimi, I was once again right there inside the story; Kim’s family was clearly brought up short as well, surprised that someone else had made “their“ cause so thoroughly her own. .

Thank you again for your efforts with this book, and for joining us here. I’ve just picked up “Everyday People” so even though I didn’t need the introduction to O‘Nan, you’ve encouraged me to continue the friendship.




I do hope you enjoy "Everday People." My favorites aside from the last two are his first novel, SNOW ANGELS, which in terms of theme is a sort of precursor to SONGS, and a frightening, lovely and odd historical novel called A PRAYER FOR THE DYING.

I might mention that SNOW ANGELS was just adapted into film, with Kate Beckinsdale and Sam Rockwell starring, and PRAYER FOR THE DYING has just been option for film (though yet to be made).
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Josh_Kendall
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Re: Questions for the Editor



tigger27 wrote:
Mr. Kendall,
 
Thank you for joining us!  Like a few other readers I had not heard of Stewart O'Nan's work prior to First Look.  I'm very excited to read more of his work now after reading Songs for the Missing.  You mentioned that you have been reading his work for 10 years, were you a fan of his work before you started editing for him? 
 
When looking for my next book to read from Mr. O'Nan it seems that he has written about so many different topics.  Is it harder editing different topics from the same writer or easier because you know their writing style?
 
Thanks again!
Shelly



Shelley,
I love this question, in particular because it strikes to the heart of what is so great about being an editor. In case you can't guess, I'm fairly passionate about what I do...
The benefit of working with great writers like Stewart O'Nan is that one can have trust in their talent -- trust that's been earned by their many accomplishments -- and so I tend to encourage that sort of eclectic ambition. If Stewart told me he wanted to write a book about Atlantis, I'd probably still grow excited about what he could do with the material. And in every case, honestly, it's my great obligation and reward to follow my authors into those territories.

Thanks again for your question, Shelley. Editors so often hide behind the stage curtain, and it's been a wonderful chance to come out and address the crowd..

Yrs,
Josh
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bmbrennan
Posts: 153
Registered: ‎02-28-2007
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Re: Questions for the Editor

Thank you Josh for joining us this week.  I too was a new reader to Mr. O' Nan's work, however this will not be my encounter with his work.  I  appreciate your coming out from behind the desk so to speak to join us.
I truly enjoyed reading this book as it provoked many emotional moments for me.  Thanks again and continued success to you and Mr. O'Nan 
bmbrennan
When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber. Churchill
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dcw888
Posts: 8
Registered: ‎04-14-2008
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Re: Questions for the Editor

First I have a question, then a comment.
 
My question:  I would like to write a review of Songs on various sites and in my blog.  Are there any name changes, or anything significant, from the ARC to the final copy that we should know about before making those reviews?
 
My comment:  Thank you so much for convincing (is that how it happened?) Mr. O'Nan for participating in First Look.  This is my first experience with the program and I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to read and discuss this particular book.  This is my introduction to Stewart O'Nan's works, and I will be heading out to find more of his books!  I must confess -- I may never have given this book a second thought had it not been offered in the program, and I am so glad I didn't miss out!
 
Denise
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umlaut
Posts: 34
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Re: Questions for the Editor

I had posted this message on this board, i guess i should posted it here:

"The part of the story of Mimi and her "crusade" to find Kim, was little too far fetched and just thrown in the story to make it more offbeat. I was little disappointed on how this character jumps into this story and makes it totally unbelievable. I am not sure what Stewart was trying to convey by brining this character in the story; god behaves in mysterious ways?? i am not sure, Mimi just doesn't fit the story. "
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va-BBoomer
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Registered: ‎01-21-2008
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Re: Questions for the Editor

Thank you for your time and fascinating answers to great questions.
 
I am pleased with the book as a whole, and only found one possible 'problem' that is probably nit-picking: when Lindsay goes college-hunting, it is mentioned that she is basically choosing between Northwestern and UChicago.  When she is in college, nothing is mentioned as to what school she decided on.  One can pick up a hint, but only that.  Unless I missed something, I did not see any specific mention of where she ended up.
 
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wbarker
Posts: 26
Registered: ‎04-25-2008
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Error on page 104

I'm not sure if this has been posted yet, but I think there may be an error on page 104:
 
The second paragraph ends with, "The sheer abundance of resources guaranteed nothing.  The sheer abundance of resources guaranteed nothing. . . . "  I don't think the sentence was supposed to be there twice.
 
I'm not sure where else to post this.
 
 
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trkmantis
Posts: 1
Registered: ‎04-25-2008
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Re: Questions for the Editor

I am a poor choice for a reader of this type of book.
 
I have two daughters in their early twenties and have been terrified since they were born of their being kidnapped, sold into white slave trade, raped and murdered- -sequentially.
 
My opinions are strong, but only my own. This is very well written and emotionally true. But-- I would never buy this work. It is a book best sold to those without female children in their lives, emotionally unchallenged in their family lives and secure in their optimism.
 
If my criticism seems harsh, you might bear in mind that many people never entertain such a possibility. They have cheerful outlooks, "It couldn't really happen to my daughter- It's only a story." I am constantly aware that it could. The problem I see with this book is that it offers no help, just insight into helplessness. But then, there is no solution, just endurance of fear or if horribly necessary, reality.
 
P.S. I love murder mysteries--Go Figure!
 
 
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ELee
Posts: 418
Registered: ‎10-26-2006
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Re: Questions for the Editor



trkmantis wrote:
I am a poor choice for a reader of this type of book.
 
I have two daughters in their early twenties and have been terrified since they were born of their being kidnapped, sold into white slave trade, raped and murdered- -sequentially.
 
My opinions are strong, but only my own. This is very well written and emotionally true. But-- I would never buy this work. It is a book best sold to those without female children in their lives, emotionally unchallenged in their family lives and secure in their optimism.
 
If my criticism seems harsh, you might bear in mind that many people never entertain such a possibility. They have cheerful outlooks, "It couldn't really happen to my daughter- It's only a story." I am constantly aware that it could. The problem I see with this book is that it offers no help, just insight into helplessness. But then, there is no solution, just endurance of fear or if horribly necessary, reality.
 
P.S. I love murder mysteries--Go Figure!
 
 


I think you reaction is an excellent testament to the effectiveness of O'Nan's work.  As with countless authors down through time who "point fingers" at things that need our attention, his job was not to offer solutions but to make even "those without female children in their lives, emotionally unchallenged in their family lives and secure in their optimism" experience what it might be like to live through this situation.  And yes, there is the endurance of fear and reality, but if awareness can subtract from the problem or even add to the solution, so much the better!
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