Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement, and one that I have yet to make. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of Diane J. Reed’s TWIXT, a magical fantasy romance which I finished reading Sunday morning.
Characters: The star of the show is Rose O’Dannon, lovely and gifted, but sorely lacking in self-confidence after surviving a marriage to abusive, meth-addict Jake, and nearly losing her 4-year-old daughter Crystal to a drowning accident in a swimming pool. Rose’s best friend Amy is a colorful, enthusiastic new-age psychic wannabe. Amy is counter-balanced by Rose’s efficient, bossy, disapproving, iron-willed half-sister Laurel.
In the same way, Chance, who loves Rose; and Vincent, who wants to exploit her, also balance each other.
Plot: With Jake dead from a drug overdose, and Crystal brain-injured from her near-drowning, shell-shocked Rose departs Winnemucca, Nevada for tiny Ophir Creek, Idaho in the Rocky Mountains, her hometown. There, she tries to make a go of things, re-opening her dead father’s gold-panning guide business, and adding a bakery-cafe.
Things look up as she reunites with best-friend Amy, but look down again as bossy half-sister Laurel shows up with “I told you so” in her eyes. Things get even worse (sorry, that’s the author’s job) when handsome, but obviously bad-news Vincent re-opens the old saloon across the street and targets Rose for emotional exploitation.
It doesn’t help that Rose’s once-spunky daughter Crystal seems severely impaired, emotionally and cognitively, from her accident.
Rose is perishing for love and affection. But everywhere she turns, from withdrawn daughter to disapproving half-sister to evil, manipulative Vincent, she finds only worry and pain. Chance, who loves her, offers a way out, if only Rose can believe, but after what she’s been through, it’s not likely.
What Rose doesn’t know is that her troubles are not new, but have reincarnated with her from a previous life. And if she can’t break the cycle now, she’ll be doomed to repeat it yet again.
Setting: The story plays out mostly in the mountain town of Ophir Creek, Idaho, in the Rocky Mountains. There are several dreamlike astral sojourns to an enchanted isle off the coast of Ireland, where Rose learns about the magical reality underlying the events of her life in the so-called “real world.”
What I thought could’ve been done better: This is one of those books where I really have to stretch to find something that could’ve been improved. I’ve got two items, but both are quite minor and didn’t affect how much I enjoyed the story.
That said, here they are.
1. “All of a sudden” ~ Diane uses this rather clumsy four-word version of “suddenly” 31 times throughout the story. “Suddenly” itself is not a great choice, adverb that it is, though it’s better than “all of a sudden.”
“Would you like some coffee?” All of a sudden, she felt silly. Do angels drink coffee?
Better: “Would you like some coffee?” Suddenly, she felt silly. Do angels drink coffee?
Best: “Would you like some coffee?” She felt silly. Do angels drink coffee?
I’m sensitive to the misuse of adverbs because it’s something I struggle with in my own writing. The fact is, Diane slings verbs around with such mastery that she doesn’t need adverbs.
2. This is purely subjective, but I thought Vincent needed to be a little more threatening and scary as a bad guy. Maybe not a whole lot. It could be easily argued that just by possessing another man’s body — Vincent is the same entity who plagued Rose in her former life, and again as Jake — that he’s already showing significant badness.
But his interactions with Rose are relatively mild, up until the book’s climactic confrontation ~ and I certainly have no complaints about that. Like I say, I’m reaching here. Unless you are actively seeking something to be critical of, like I am, Vincent’s alleged shortage of badness probably won’t bother you.
What I thought was good: Got all day? Let’s start with the basics ~ active voice and vivid verbs. These are the bones and muscles of writing. Diane’s story has them.
Here’s a scene from Rose’s past life ~
The wind howled across the land like a banshee. With each step, Corvine felt dust grinding at her feet, her scalp, her teeth. She grasped an edge of the wagon and stared at the mules’ ears flopping in rhythm with their hooves, hides powdered gray.
I also liked her place descriptions. Place descriptions orient the reader in the story and take them to, well, places. Done wrong, they dissolve into the purple prose that make readers roll their eyes. Diane renders them right ~ with verbs, not adjectives.
Before her, the ocean met the shore in shifting light, sometimes flashing pewter or sullen iron, when a ray of sunlight broke through the clouds and made the tides sparkle emerald. The unpredictable waves hugged the golden shore like a crease between two worlds–the one she had left behind and the one presented to her now–
And note the wonderful, lyrical simile ~ “…like a crease between two worlds–” Love it!
I liked most how Diane weaves magic and life together. Abusive spouse, damaged child, no money — these are the dark edges of what we know as real life. Diane suggests that they are underpinned by a magical reality that either victimizes Rose or offers her a way out — based on whether she can let go of her fear and despair and take a “chance” on love.
On one scale or another, that’s a choice all of us face, every day.
Overall: I started TWIXT thinking it would be a light-hearted fairy tale romance. Diane disabused me of that notion within the first few pages. Written with honesty, passion and precision, TWIXT offers a simple but profound message about life and love and the magic to be found in each.
Good job, Diane!