Monday, April 21, 2008

Catherine Tudish, novelist, at Brooks Memorial on Wednesday, April 23

Catherine Tudish, author of the acclaimed Tenny's Landing, will be at the Library on Wednesday, April 30, at 7:00 PM, to read and discuss her first novel, American Cream.

The book has been reviewed widely and well received. Here is a review from Joni Cole, the author of Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive, and the creator of the “This Day” book series, including the newest volume Water Cooler Diaries: Women across America Share Their Day at Work.

Review of American Cream: A Novel by Catherine Tudish.

Review by Joni Cole

I knew I should read Catherine Tudish’s novel, American Cream. Early reviewers exclaimed how “literary” the book was; how it was “beautifully written,” and an “incandescent debut novel.” On the book jacket, a famous author touted the “quiet elegance” of Catherine’s prose. Readers who sounded in on Amazon described American Cream as “profound,” “thought provoking,” and “emotionally rich.” I also knew that Catherine’s short story collection Tenney’s Landing made her one of the top three finalists in Barnes and Noble’s 2005 Discover Great New Writers program. And last, but hardly least, I know Catherine personally. So it makes sense I would read (or at least buy) her book.

Of course sometimes what we know we should do… and what we want to do are two very different things. For months American Cream sat on my bedside table, displaced by a variety of other novels that no one would confuse with profound, but promised to be fun, fast reads. What can I say? I’m a working mom and perpetually overwhelmed. When I pick up a book at the end of a long day, I want a good story. I want a few laughs. Some hot romance would be nice, too.

Surprise, surprise. When I finally got around to reading American Cream, I got all that, and a whole lot more. This book is a page-turner, as entertaining as it is deep, as witty as it is wise.

The plot centers around Virginia Rownd, forty-something, who unexpectedly has to return to the small community where she grew up to help her dad on the family farm, after he’s been injured in a tractor accident. She leaves her loving (if slightly paragon of virtue-ish) surgeon husband back home in suburbia. But she brings along her surly teenage son, Randall, who is not convinced that a summer milking cows will be an adventure. (“What do you think?” Randall asked, his voice cracking. “I’m like five years old?”)

On the farm, Virginia is forced to share space with her dad’s new wife, Lydia, whom Virginia doesn’t like any more now than she did back when the woman ran the school cafeteria. Virginia also doesn’t like the looks of the tattooed girl her son’s got his eye (and maybe more) on. And then there’s Virginia’s high school sweetheart, West Moffat, now settled with a wife and three sons. West still lives in their hometown, and he’s not the kind of old boyfriend you meet years later and thank God it didn’t work out. (You look good,” Virginia told West, “even with the beard,” she added, as if she were joking.) Virginia and West act perfectly proper with their families in tow, but their muted desire creates enough sparks on the page to endanger the hay barn.

I love this novel because the characters feel real, human. The good-hearted types royally screw up. The losers have humanity. Virginia Rownd is the kind of woman I’d like to have as a friend. That said, she makes decisions that make me want to smack her upside the head. Situations are filled with poignant emotion and humor, often at the same time. Like life, the novel is full of everyday drama, and small, meaningful moments with huge consequences.

I read American Cream on the edge of my pillow. Catherine had me so involved in these characters’ lives, I didn’t want to leave them. While the conclusion of the book was unexpected, powerful, and perfect, I still want to find out what comes next. I still want to turn the pages.

Oh, and one more thing. American Cream is, indeed, a beautifully written, incandescent debut novel, with a quiet elegance to its prose. But the next time you see it on a bookstore shelf, or unopened on your nightstand, don’t let those attributes scare you away.



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