Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Plans - Natalie Smothers

Summary:  All great things start out as something small, a connection formed by two unexpected sparks, foundations built through trial and time and trust, future plans mapped out in baby steps.  Danya Biermann never expected to be cooking for the students of the Shimamura School for Gifted Children, just as she never expected Patrick Dahlberg to agree to her book proposal, but there she'd had hope...and egg rolls.

Danya always found it easy to believe in herself and take care of everyone else, but found it hard to accept that same faith and love from others. 

And so does Nathan Weisflock, but sometimes an unexpected connection borne of love and faith can bring us back to ourselves and our best laid plans. (Summary from book - Image from - Book given free to review)

My Review:   When I received this book in the mail, it dropped out of the package looking nothing like what I expected. I understand the architectural significance of the cover art now and how it factors into the story, but my initial impression was “What the heck?! Did I agree to review a textbook?”. I was a little reluctant at first, but as I started reading I found a story that had a lot of promise. The characters felt realistically flawed yet endearing and, a few pages in, it had the makings of a Pride and Prejudice like romance -- if Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth were acutely unpleasant and swore as easily as breathing. I felt like I had read an entire book by page 83 and was having a merry old time when Ms. Smothers threw in a twist that had me fractured and needing to know more. 

If you handed me Plans in outline form, with basic plot and character sketches, I would snap it up in a second flat. Indeed, it was the bones of this story kept me reading through a challengingly detailed 327-page novel with unbelievably small font, and incredibly narrow margins. Unfortunately, the bones were deeply buried beneath mountains of detail. Smothers' tendency to overexplain left nothing for the reader to infer. For example:
“ [Danya] went into the kitchen and took two glasses out of the cabinet, then looked into the refrigerator. A carton of organic lemonade was pushed all the way to the back of the middle shelf and she reached in for it, shaking it as she took it out to try and determine how much was left. There was enough for each of them to have a glass if she threw a few ice cubes in with it.”
Now, imagine 327 pages of exactly how the tomatoes were sliced, in depth conversations with the cabdriver, or the precise position of a photograph on a nightstand. I liked the story, but by the end, I was ready for it to end. I did not need to know the exact position of the lemonade in the fridge, nor did I care that it was organic. This additional knowledge did not enhance anything and, in fact, its sheer unnecessary presence only served to detract from the story.

If I might presume to give Ms. Smothers advice that I’m not even remotely qualified to give, it would be to strip away all the dead wood* and let her story breathe a little. A great writer knows when to describe and when to withhold so that the reader can create for themselves. A great writer takes the expertly crafted sentence they have spent hours, even days, perfecting and throws it on the scrap heap because, ultimately, it doesn’t serve the story.

Towards the end, particularly the last section, I had a hard time putting the book down despite its tendency towards overexertion. Overall, I enjoyed the premise, characters, and the emotional pull of the story, but could have done without all the excessive detail. If you have the patience for it, you might find something to admire as well.

My Rating: 3.25 Stars.  For the sensitive reader.  Occasional profanity of the non-biblical variety, some mild sexual situations and description, and a slightly unorthodox relationship.

Sum it up: Plans is like a beautiful house, solidly constructed, expertly designed and decorated, but with a yard full of lawn ornaments that muck up everything and annoy the heck out of the neighbors.

*That’s for you Mrs. Bybee


Heather said...

I loved how you "summed it up"! I can just picture all those little gnomes and windmills.

Molly said...

Well-written review! Having read "Plans" not too long ago, I have to agree with your summation. Though Natalie Smothers is a dear friend of mine, I concur that she strays into over-description. However, the twists and turns at the end make the story worth reading, as you said. Thanks for such a worthwhile review!


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