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Review: ‘Unfinished’ by Pat Bertram

Author Pat Bertram, who previously explored her own encounter with the loss of a loved one in Grief: The Great Yearning (2016), has brought her wisdom into the world of fiction in Unfinished (Stairway Press, June 27, 2017). The story will capture your heart and soul, while shining a spotlight on the fact that most people want those who grieve to get over it quickly because they make us uncomfortable.

Like many spouses, Amanda Ray defined herself as one half of a married team, leaving her without a sense of self when her husband David dies at 59 after a long illness. Her husband was a minister. Amanda’s role as the traditional minister’s wife  (hostess, assistant, secretary, and help meet) didn’t lend itself to separate goals or careers.  While she doesn’t know if she would cope with her loss differently if she’d had her own career to fall back on after her husband died, Amanda does know that the same friends whose visits grew more and more sparse during David’s illness have little or nothing comforting to say during or after the memorial service.

“I’m sorry for your loss” and “It’s time to get on with your life” are among the most popular sentiments. Yet, the grief is like a tide that’s always high and always coming in. Her daughter, already grown and on her own, exhibits an overt lack lack of empathy or sympathy when Amanda cries at everything, can’t sleep, can’t eat, and can hardly hope. Amanda looks for David, expects him to be in his study, wonders why he did this to her and why he was so distant once he learned that his illness was a terminal and painful cancer.

One small hope is a prospective relationship with a man she met at an online forum for cancer caregivers before David died. Sam’s wife also has cancer and isn’t expected to survive it. Amanda and Sam are drawn to each other in part because Sam doesn’t react to her tears and doubts with cliched platitudes. Some of their online chats become steamy. At times, she wonders whether he’s sincere or a predator because while he claims to love her–though they’ve never met in person–Amanda sees that he has less time for her than everyone else in his life. Is there a future here or not?

David, kept secrets from her. They are hidden in a computer file he didn’t want her to read until after he was gone. Now she can’t find the password. She did find the gun in the pocket of his robe and wonders if he bought it to end his life when the pain became more than he could bear. But then she discovers the gun has a longer history. At times, Amanda thinks she’s grieving for a man she didn’t wholly know, and that’s one of the things that makes her feel like everything is unfinished.

Bertram knows grief’s uneven terrain and has created a believable, three-dimensional protagonist who must not only deal with the uproar inside her head and body, but the secrets, the online comings and goings of Sam and the fact that she must face and box up all the mementos of her life with David and quickly move out of the church’s parsonage. Sam, while slightly less believable due to his gushing online endearments, plays a realistic role as a sounding board and–after most of the tears have fallen–a prospective future. The secrets unravel in a cruel progression that keep Amanda–as well as the book’s readers–off balance as though there’s continually another shoe waiting to drop.

Amanda’s story is a poignant story that delivers a heavy punch in a relatively short book. The lessons to be learned will last long after the last page has been turned.




Those sickening bestsellers

Periodically I read the entire oeuvre of a bestselling author to try to see what it is that so many people finding interesting, and so far, I haven’t a clue what makes hordes people buy the books they do. Even if I did figure it out, I don’t think it would help me any. Unlike […]

via Best Selling Author Makes Me Sick to My Stomach — Bertram’s Blog

I got sick to my stomach thinking about the kids of books Pat Bertram talked about in her blog. She wants to know what lures millions of people to certain kinds of books that seem to sell better than others–and make their authors rich.

So, after taking an Alka-Seltzer, I’m feeling much better now, thank you. I still don’t understand the attraction of cookie cutter books. I supposed they’re like cookies. Once you enjoy the first, you can’t stop buying more. Maybe the same old, same old is a comforting thing even when it’s awful.

I really don’t want to break the code. Then I might start writing them myself.


Book Bits: Year’s most expensive titles, ‘The Entertainer,’ Pat Bertram, Natasha Trethewey

During the fall, those of us who love to read find the Internet packed full of lists of the year’s best books and of lists for our holiday shopping. I like the holiday shopping lists better because they often include books by local and regional authors along with books in various genres that don’t appear on the radar of most book reviewers during the rest of the year.  The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, for example, ran an article yesterday called “”Holiday books roundup: Regional books” that includes books that are perfect for those who follow the authors, tourist destinations and history close to home. Perhaps your newspaper will also publish a list like that, reminding us that all the books worth reading do not come from big New York publishers or receive reviews in “Kirkus” or “Publishers Weekly.”

  1. News: Book gives up-close look at Graham Greene’s political writing, by David Adams – “In 1965 British author Graham Greene arrived in the Dominican Republic fresh from neighboring Haiti where he witnessed first hand the ‘unique evil’ of Haiti’s brutal dictator, Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier.” Reuters
  2. Lists: Books of the year 2012: authors choose their favourites – “From a meditation on walking Britain’s ancient paths to an epic American novel, from reportage on life in a Mumbai slum to a blockbuster biography of LBJ … writers choose their books of the year” The Guardian
  3. Resource: Bloom: Welcome to Bloom — a literary site devoted to highlighting, profiling, reviewing, and interviewing authors whose first major work was published when they were age 40 or older.  Bloom is also a community of artists and readers who believe that “late” is a relative term, not an absolute one, and who are interested in bringing to attention a wide variety of artistic paths — challenging any narrow, prevailing ideas about the pacing and timing of creative fruition.  If someone is labeled a “late bloomer,” the question Bloom poses is, “Late” according to whom?
  4. Feature: Realizing the true potential of digital reading, by Matthew Bostock – “The world of digital reading is, of course, growing rapidly but is this growth fundamentally changing the way we read books, or is it offering us new channels to explore, discover, share and understand on an even greater scale than ever before?” The Huffington Post
  5. Interview: A Daughter Remembers Her ‘Entertainer’ Father – “If you look up the name Lyle Talbot on IMDb, you’ll find dozens of films and television shows he appeared in, starting with the 1931 short The Nightingale and ending with roles on Newhart and Who’s the Boss. He made a movie with Bogart before Bogart was a star. He worked with child star Shirley Temple, was featured in the Ed Wood cult classics Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda?, and had a recurring role on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as Ozzie’s friend and neighbor Joe Randolph.” NPR
  6. Obituary: Best-selling Australian author Courtenay dies, by Rod McGuirk – “Best-selling Australian author Bryce Courtenay (“The Power of One”), whose first and final books drew on his tough early-life experiences in Africa, has died of stomach cancer. He was 79.” Associated Press
  7. Feature: The Most Expensive Books of the Season – “It’s holiday shopping time! For those of you who already gifted Fifty Shades of Grey for an earlier 2012 holiday, we have books on wine, Marilyn Monroe, and Star Wars that would make perfect stocking stuffers. One catch: they’re not cheap. Read on if you really love books.” Publishers Weekly
  8. Essay: In praise of the cliche, by Hephzibah Anderson – “At the end of the day, sometimes you’ve just got to think inside the box.” Prospect
  9. Lists: 5 Cases of Confusion Between Things and Their Names, by Mark Nichol – Do you recognize these examples!  Daily Writing Tips
  10. Factoid: More than eight in ten Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year, and six in ten used their local public library.  – ParaPublishing
  11. Interview: Pat Bertram (“A Spark of Heavenly Fire”) with Linda Bonney Olin – “If there is a message in my fiction, it’s that nothing is as it seems. We are not necessarily who we think we are, history did not necessarily happen the way we think it did, and what we see is not necessarily the truth.” Faith Song
  12. Viewpoint: Being Ruthless, by Theodora Goss – This post comes out of a Faulkner quotation: “The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.” Theodora Goss
  13. Recent New Title: “Unleashing Coulter’s Hell: a National Park Thriller,” by Sean Smith – “With the recent release of Skyfall, the new James Bond adventure, I’m reminded of how my love of the secret agent’s adventures and my passion for national parks led to writing a Bond-style thriller, set in Yellowstone National Park. Unleashing Colter’s Hell tells the story of a single park ranger’s race to prevent an attack that could destroy the United States.” Park Advocate
  14. Commentary: I’m Done, by Michael Dirda – “When Philip Roth recently announced his retirement from writing fiction, I was surprised and impressed. After all, one of the great artistic rules, less often observed than it should be, is knowing when to stop.” The American Scholar
  15. Viewpoint: The hows and whys of writing poetry, by William Wootten – The denizens of writing workshops speak of readers and poets as “a mutually respectful community.” Nonsense. They confuse poetry with social work. Times Literary Supplement
  16. News: China: Dissident Poet Jailed for 12 Years – “The poet, Li Bifeng, who was formerly imprisoned for five years for his involvement in the Tiananmen Square democracy movement, was sentenced in Sichuan Province, said his lawyer, Zhao Jianwei.”  The New York Times
  17. Interview: Natasha Trethewey with Emily Wagster Pettus – “The librarian of Congress, James Billington, named Trethewey as the nation’s 19th poet laureate in June, and she began the one-year position in September. She has already given speeches and public readings in Washington, D.C., and in two states where she grew up, Mississippi and Georgia.” Huffington Post
  18. Feature: Arrests over Facebook comments fan debate in India, by Sumit Galhotra – “The arrest of two women in India this week because of posting and “liking” an opinion on Facebook has further inflamed debate over the right to freedom of expression in the world’s largest democracy.” Committee to Protect Journalists
  19. Lists: 10 of the Most Gloriously Frustrating Endings in Literature, by Tom Hawking – “There’s been an interesting back-and-forth happening in the books section of the Guardian‘s website this week, catalysed by the publication of a kinda vapid blog post about how ‘narratives that finish without resolving their plots… are unending torture for readers.’ If that premise annoys you, you’re not the only one, and sure enough, yesterday the paper published another post rebutting the initial argument.” Flavorwire

“Book Bits” is compiled by contemporary fantasy author Malcolm R. Campbell

Book Bits Friday: Brazil offers translation grants, Philip Roth retires, Holmes at 125, ‘Fifty Shades of Earl Grey’

I found some interesting links and thought I’d go ahead and post them rather than waiting until Monday,

  1. News: World Book Night U.S.: Honorary Chairpeople & Book Picks – “Authors Ann Patchett and James Patterson have been named honorary national chairpeople for World Book Night U.S., which also announced the WBN 2013 U.S. book picks and opened the online application process for those wishing to become volunteer book givers next spring.” Shelf Awareness
  2. News: Brazil Offers $35.5 Million in Grants for Literary Translations, by Edward Nawotka – “The Brazilian National Library Foundation established a translation grant program in July of this year and the government has committed $35.5 million to the initiative.” Publishing Perspectives
  3. Roth Society Photo

    Feature: Philip Roth is calling it a career – “In an interview with a French publication called Les inRocks last month — which does not appear to have been reported in the United States — Roth, 78, said he has not written anything new in the last three years, and that he will not write another novel.” Salon

  4. Feature: The digital challenge, I: Loss & gain, or the fate of the book, by Anthony Daniels – “The first entry in our series “The digital challenge.” What does the future hold for printed books?” The New Criterian
  5. Viewpoint: Did Writing Your Book Change Your Life? by Pat Bertram – Thoughts from several authors on what it was like to complete a book. Angie’s Diary
  6. Quotation: “I’m inspired and discouraged by the same idea, it just depends on how I spin it at any given moment. There will always be writers and there will always be readers no matter what form or medium the “book” takes, and so there will always need to be a mechanism that gets the “book” from the writer to the reader. Bookstores are still really, really good at getting books from writers to readers. But those pure impulses, the impulse to write and the impulse to read, don’t interact very well with market economics.” Josh Cook, Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA
  7. Dirda

    Feature: Book Shopping with the Best-Read Man in America, by John Lingan – “It was him: the book critic and author, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, known apocryphally as the best-read man in America, whose essays had enticed me to read everything from Little, Big to Three Men in a Boat—and here he was, squinting his way through the lowest shelves in the same crusty bargain dungeon I came to all the time.” The Paris Review

  8. Feature: Sherlock Holmes at 125, by Gregory McNamee – “It was an inspired but utterly accidental moment when Arthur Conan Doyle, a Scottish doctor struggling to establish himself both as a physician and as a writer in late Victorian London, drew upon the habits of an irascible medical school mentor to concoct a character that he pegged as a “consulting detective,” an utterly newfangled job description.” Kirkus Reviews
  9. Viewpoint: Dear Reader: If you buy books like widgets, I don’t want you, by Malcolm R. Campbell – “We hear stories from time to time about artists, jewelers, furniture makers and other stubborn souls who, after perfecting the art and the craft of their work for nearly a lifetime, refuse to sell their work to customers whom they believe won’t appreciate the work for its inherent beauty and artistry or who try to prostitute themselves, the art and the artists by acquiring the perfect bentwood rocker, diamond ring or sonnet at a rock bottom price.” Malcolm’s Round Table
  10. Review: Holiday Gift Guide: Fifty Shames of Earl Grey by Fanny Merkin, reviewed by Aron Blanton – “The title warns you not to expect high art and, in case you were ever in doubt, the cover confirms it. Yes, this is a parody of Fifty Shades of Grey. Of course it is. But there is a surprise or two left in store: in a market that seems clotted with mashups and parodies, Fifty Shames of Earl Grey (Da Capo) actually exceeds all expectations. ” January Magazine
  11. Essay: What’s in a Name? by Michael Dirda – “Oh, the joys of being tuckerized …” The American Scholar
  12. Obituary: Mississippi author Ellen Douglas dies at 91, by Emily Wagster Pettus – “Ellen Douglas, a Mississippi native whose novel ‘‘Apostles of Light’’ was a 1973 National Book Award nominee, died Wednesday in Jackson. She was 91. Douglas, who cited fellow Mississippi native William Faulkner as a literary influence, was the pen name of Josephine Ayres Haxton; she said she took a pseudonym to guard the privacy of her family. Douglas’ Mississippi-set work dealt candidly with race relations, families and the role of women.” The Associated Press
  13. Upcoming Title: “Sure Signs of Crazy,” by Karen Harrington (“Janeology”) – “You’ve never met anyone exactly like twelve-year-old Sarah Nelson.  While most of her classmates geek out over Harry Potter, she writes letters to Atticus Finch. Her best friend is a plant. And she’s never known her mother, who has lived in a mental institution since Sarah was two.” author’s website
  14. How To: You Can Write Today, by Beth Hill – “A lot of you are writing today. At least you’re trying to. You’re feverishly putting out word counts for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Or maybe you have a school project due soon. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re making your first attempt at long fiction or a short story.” The Editor’s Blog

“Book Bits” is compiled by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of four novels including the contemporary fantasy adventures “Sarabande” and “The Sun Singer.”

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