Friday, February 22, 2013

Atlanta: A Novella by Loreen Niewenhuis

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

Paperback, 129 pages
Publisher: Main Street Rag Publishing, 2011
Price: $9.95
ISBN-10: 1599482916
ISBN-13: 978-1599482910

This is embarrassing. I'm about to confess to judging a book by its cover. And I knew better, I did! I knew the author, Loreen Niewenhuis, from her previous travelogue/memoir, A 1,000 Mile Walk on the Beach, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I knew this author is a skilled writer … and  yet, and yet, I let this book sit on my table for a very, very long time. Unread. Because of the cover. Let's face it, it looks like a travel guide to Atlanta.

I've been to Atlanta, and perhaps it was the circumstances surrounding me at the time, but I didn't particularly enjoy the trip. I'd look at this cover and feel not one degree above lukewarm, and I would end up picking another book to read. You know, with a more enticing cover.

Well, enough already about the unexciting cover. I finally did get past it to the first page. And from then on, gasp, I kept paging until the very end, completely enthralled.

The scene opens with Bruce the janitor. He is preparing to buff the floor. While doing so, he lights up a joint. Soon, he gets off work to pick up a street walker, Janine, pays her $50 to hold his hand, nothing more, just hold his hand. What Bruce really wants, aside from having his hand held, is to buy a puppy.

And off we go, one interesting character of another, as if disconnected, yet all dotting Atlanta and bringing it to life, like one light going on after another throughout the city, until it is all aglow with the shimmer of humanity.

An intricate weaving forms the fabric of Atlanta. Mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, neighbors and people in passing, all expose their most vulnerable places to Niewenhuis's light—and to the reader. These are the residents of the city, different social and economic classes, races, backgrounds, and gradually their paths intersect, as they must.

Niewenhuis shapes her characters with such care and detail, that we do not doubt that they live. They do live. Long after the last page is turned, with only the regret at end that this is a novella instead of a novel.

Do me a favor. Just read. Suddenly you see the many lives living inside that city on the cover. These are lives that matter, if only because they live so true.

Loreen Niewenhuis is a scientist, adventurer and writer. She holds a MS degree from Wayne State University and a MFA from Spalding University. Her short fiction has appeared in many journals including The Antioch Review, Red Wheelbarrow, The Smoking Poet and Bellevue Literary Review. Her short story collection, Scar Tissue, was a finalist for the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. In 2009, she took on the challenge of walking all the way around Lake Michigan. A 1,000 Mile Walk on the Beach is the book about her adventure.


millie said...

Thank you for that excellent review of Ms. Niewenhuis's book. My friends and I wanted much more after the book was a second book following the characters lives even further. I couldn't stop thinking of them when the book was finished and kept rehashing their lives in my mind for quite some time. I hope this review gets more readers to pick up this little gem. It is so worth the read.

Richard said...

I will keep an eye out for this. I am reading some books and stories by Flannery O'Connor (the award above is named after her) and Alice Munro. I love short stories and novellas and novellas but I can see (or imagine) why you wanted it to be a novel. There ARE a lot of excellent if not great writers hidden behind covers (covers that look uninspiring as in the book reviewed).

A good review also.