Plot Summary: In this latest installment of the series, we find the ladies taking up the study of Hamlet, including not only the reading of the play but also the interpretation of two different stage productions. The idea of “interpretation” via perception or misperception continues to be prevalent in this story, as it did in their study of Macbeth. Against this backdrop is the introduction of Clarissa, Sally’s friend who wishes to “join the club.” The tightly-knit coven admits newcomers rarely, with all the “wagon-circling” typical of women and what is best described as “womb-psychology.” No one penetrates this stubborn ovum easily. Clarissa arrives with her own quirky style and an air of mystery, which seems to be a subject saved for a later installment. Katherine throws a party as a sort of “interview” for Clarissa. Clarissa meets the ladies and their husbands and forms her own initial observations as she tries to make an impression. A lunch with Annie brings Clarissa up to speed after she is admitted to the circle, which also helps to bring a new reader up to speed if they have not read the previous Chronicles. The ladies meet and have various discussions about the play, their views of Hamlet, Gertrude, and Claudius, via the lenses of their own life experiences. Their individual reactions continue to be directed by their own pains and prejudices.
Basic Structure: The novel begins in Annie’s kitchen (some continuity problem remains as it starts in the kitchen, but a few paragraphs later writes “they arrive at Annie’s apartment), but suddenly we are thrust into the atmosphere of the Art Institute and the Chicago façade. This scene has been effectively moved so that it stands alone. The author refers to “that morning,” but there is no reason for this flashback. The reader suddenly feels they are at the Art Institute instead of Annie’s kitchen, where they were at the onset a paragraph or two ago. Other transition problems such as this show up later and will need smoothing. When Chapter 2 begins, it needs to be initially established that we are still in Annie’s kitchen. The final paragraph in Chapter 7 should be cut. “It’s more of a stroll than a workout.” It hangs there and is not needed.
The story appears omniscient in POV at first, with quite a bit of head-hopping, where the reader is trying to “become seated” as the all-seeing observer. This attempt quickly crumbles, unfortunately, with the introduction of the plural, first-person pronoun “our,” i.e. “Sally, our newest addition remarks….” Now we have a problem. Whose head are we in? It appears to be Claire, but then Annie’s presence is so strong and we are in her head often, so we are confused as to whose head is guiding us through the action. The author has written certain chapters in first person, but the “I” that is Claire in the Book Club scenes dominates, so that when we are in first person with Katherine, Annie, and Franny later on in their own scenes, this is confusing. We still think of the “I” as Claire, as it appears her POV dominates. Lack of dialogue tags at intervals also contributes to this confusion. There is some great action going on here, in Clarissa’s story, in Franny’s, and in Claire’s. The key is going to be controlling the POV and conveying this action through the appropriate lens for the moment. The scenes between the spouses or partners are fairly clear (although it is not clear at the end that Claire and Henry are actually disagreeing—they appear to be in agreement so Claire’s internal reaction is not understood), but when the club meets or there are more than three people in a scene, the action and motive become confusing. It is recommended that the author reexamine her mission for this installment. Clearly, the first goal is to introduce Clarissa and shake up the status quo. As they study Hamlet, the friction between Franny and Katherine manifests itself (“But Katherine, someone always loses or wins”). This can be developed a bit. The women comment that Franny is improving, but then there is much of the old Franny here, until the end when she learns of her impending grandparenthood. The lunch scene appears to be the strongest in the book, seconded only by the party. The author controls the story well with third person narration. It is recommended that the entire book be handled using the POV of the lunch scene. Chapter Five’s shift to Franny in first person is jarring. There is great writing, i.e. “I can, oh so slowly, feel myself changing, becoming not so harsh and angry…” and it can be equally powerful in third person. If the author is comfortable, it is recommended as compromise that Claire narrate the Book Club meetings in first person, while the rest of the story remain in third person limited depending on the principal character. Shifts to Mark’s POV and the other male characters should be eliminated entirely. This is a woman’s book with a woman’s voice. The males can still be portrayed with depth through female empathy. Even Bill’s feelings of rejection in Chapter 12 can be portrayed through Annie’s eyes. If we need to get into Clarissa’s head, the best time may be when she meets up with Sally and not at the party.
Much is made of Hamlet being not only Shakespeare’s longest play, but also perhaps his most malleable as far as interpretation. In the end, Claire and Henry talk about life being just that way. This is the central theme that needs to be followed in this story: the complexity of the women as individuals and how, when they come into their group dynamics, perceptions are constantly muddled, adjusting, changing, and refocusing. It is recommended, for overall focus, that the author commit to a specific POV in each chapter, rather than attempting omniscient POV. Because she lapses into first person singular and plural so often, she is clearly relating as the writer to one of her characters in particular. She should stick with the POV in all scenes that are pertinent. When the scene changes to the spousal/lover exchanges, it is recommended that she maintain the primary female character’s POV. The idea that there is “group slaughter” at the end of Hamlet because of misinterpretation and emotional immaturity is foreboding in terms of what could happen to the Book Club should “too many cooks” become a problem (Clarissa), or betrayals such as Claudius/Gertrude (Clarissa/?) should be set against that backdrop and fully developed. Katherine’s self-absorption in her lunchtime vent over Russ’s not remembering their time together (although the man has dementia and is to be pitied) is an offside scene in and of itself, and her egocentrism is well-maintained throughout. She is perhaps the most clearly developed, vivid character in this episode. Her immaturity vacillates in that one moment she is reacting unreasonably to Russ, and the next minute waxing philosophical about Hamlet’s sophomoric transgressions as simply the stuff of youth.
Claire, in her new marriage, is becoming more at ease, but not completely, as we witness in her reactions to Clarissa at the party. The similarity in their names portends eventual conflict. Maybe more indication of this would be beneficial.
In any event, a clear outline needs to be made of where we are headed in this installment and development is needed. Annie maintains her stability, Claire is adapting to marriage, Franny is struggling with demons yet, but moving forward and evolving. Sally is a bit of an instigator, while Cindy and Mary maintain their positions as stabilizers or supporting characters. Katherine continues to kick up her heels in the shadow of cancer recovery. They are all desperately trying to live before they die, but they can all still become embroiled in life’s more picayune distractions. These distractions are the chaos of Hamlet, and the tragedy that can happen when transparency and communication are not maintained.
Hamlet begins with a spectre that incites doubt, betrayal, confusion, resentment, and death. Clarissa could be that “spectre,” but to what depth? This should be explored.
Characters: While the characters are basically consistent from previous installments, more can be done with maintaining their physical presence, i.e. description and mannerisms. The male characters offer some comic relief and also the usual male, linear perspective that helps to simplify the chaos of female tempestuousness. As characters, they not only offer a “break” for the reader but also serve as interpreters of the action. The women’s interpretations and opinions of Gertrude dominate tension in this installment. When writing from any of their POVs, this needs to be the backdrop or controlling framework. Clarissa’s character is vivid and quirky. She is a good addition to the Book Club. Her words “There are stories we are not aware of…” are insightful when contrasted with the multiple plots of Hamlet. Clarissa is busy analyzing the personal tragedies of the club in the same way the club is breaking down Shakespeare’s longest play.
Dialogue: The author writes realistic dialogue as usual. More narrative support needs to be integrated into the work as the scenes are often too dialogue-driven. More tagging of dialogue is needed. Fixing the POV will help this as well.
Basic Mechanics: Corrections will be needed for line errors, missing words. While line corrections are still needed, there will also have to be heightened attention at the content/continuity level for clear assignment of dialogue tags where needed and clearing up confusion such as in Chapter 7 where at one point they are discussing Hamlet but then shift focus to Claudius i.e. “Franny, chuckling says….” There needs to be a section break in Chapter Eight after “Perhaps I no longer am sure I know the right answers.”
Overall Assessment: This installment follows tradition and has several centers of action going on simultaneously, as would be expected when one examines a group as a sum of its parts. Because there is so much happening here, it’s imperative that the reader maintain a clear point of observation. The head-hopping and POV shifts are confusing and inhibit bonding to the story. The richness, the numerous tasty morsels of this literary salad, need the flavor-control of developmental editing. There is “much ado” in the menu here and it needs presentation when the scenes are offered up. If the author wishes to maintain the omniscient POV, then this needs solid, puritan adherence. If the author is otherwise more bonded to one character’s perspective than another, then that character’s POV should be maintained in the chapter or section. Additionally, more description and work on transitions is needed. Clarissa brings (literally) something new to the table. The author should build on her sudden, “otherworldly” arrival as Shakespeare does with Hamlet, Sr. Her “interview” reveals the insecurities of other characters in their interactions within the Book Club and outside. Tensions abound and there is great psychological action here. Worth some extra typing and an extra bottle of Aleve for any carpal tunnel aggravation. The Evaluator remains sensitive to the author’s need for a degree of nonconformity as to style. Claire’s first person POV is well established in the beginning as we watch the Book Club through her. It remains jarring to have multiple I’s thereafter. If the author is willing, developmental work is recommended to make this installment pack the proper punch and not disengage the reader. If the POV is more controlled, the real substance and power of this story and its “play within a play” concept (we are never sure if the women are discussing Hamlet or their own lives) can be more effectively conveyed. While the study of Macbeth brought the coven of the club to light, Hamlet is now the quintessential lens with which to view the competition, paranoia, desperation and other complexities of the women’s lives.
Title: The title, which references a vocation of the Apostle Paul mentioned in the work, is appropriate: metaphoric and powerful with ironic understatement.
Premise, Tone: Those familiar with the author’s previous works will recognize the return of scientist Clotile “Cloe” LeJeune and her entourage of well-drawn characters. The group is on another archaeological adventure, this time involving the life and wanderings of the Apostle Paul. Cloe and her old friend Monsignor Albert have discovered a box in a cave on Malta which could have far-reaching implications regarding Paul’s western ministry in Spain. They no sooner find their historical treasure than they come under attack from those who ascribe their own value to the relic. Cloe and her old associates wind up on the run from a host of enemies, jetting across the globe in their usual routine as they try to solve a mystery and stay alive at the same time.
Choosing the life of Paul, with its mystique and profound significance to world religion, is a great subject for this latest story. The author appears to have researched enough of the saint’s life to give the tale some realism.
The writing’s tone is that of a classic detective novel or adventure drama, though Cloe is hardly a clue-sniffing dowager of the Christie variety. She is rather the female Indiana Jones, with a little Temperance Brennan thrown in for the sake of the author’s ongoing theme.
Structure, Plot, Pace: The book is action, action, action from page one. Anyone who loves Stieg Larsson or James Patterson will appreciate the exciting pace of the story. It’s largely told in Cloe’s POV, third person limited, with some necessary digressions when we shift to the views of the antagonists. POV will have to be addressed, particularly when terms like “the man” vs “Malta,” the “old man,” “the driver,” and “the priest” are used. Since there are often more than one, generic descriptions become problematic. It’s important to use actual names where appropriate. Chapter 15 is a significant example of where it is hard to follow the action because of shifting POV and generic monikers. One suggestion here is that it could be written in JE’s POV. Chapter 30 contains “head-hopping” from JE to Albert. Chapter 14 shifts from Sancho to the person on the phone.
The plot, inasmuch as the story is unfinished, seems to be well-constructed as to logic, but a scrutiny for any “dropped stitches” is always necessary with any well-woven, intricate plot with many characters and intricate details. When Cloe walks away from a huge crash/explosion, she should be more traumatized. Her hearing would be impaired, for example.
There are repeated “cliffhangers” like the “myrrh” comments that end two consecutive chapters, 31 and 32. This sort of device should be done only once and then clarified in the next scenes. Repeated descriptive phrases such as “a taste she acquired at school” and “saved their bacon” need to be scrutinized and eliminated.
References to Cloe’s past adventures should be mentioned only when necessary to clarify the current action or to describe a relationship. When it is mentioned that Sky was “Michael’s personal pilot,” the reader has no idea who Michael is or was. Sometimes Cloe goes into reminiscences that seem unnecessary or confusing to a reader who has not read the previous books. The beginning of Chapter 43 is one example.
Work will be needed to eliminate unnecessary filtering of POV. Words like “knew,” “felt,” and “decided” are red flags and add an unnecessary dimension to the POV.
Overall, the plot arc will need a close eye due to the various locations and multiple characters.
Characterization: The author does his usual good work in creating vivid characters. Further work can be done to maintain their distinctive personalities in scenes. As the evaluator has mentioned in the past, when you have so many priests, vis a vis Albert, Anton, and the curator, it’s important to give them distinctive voices and make sure their roles are defined and well-positioned in scenes. More could be done to make the characters more human in their interactions. Making the story less dialogue-driven can help this. Perhaps the author could consider an interesting human subplot, much like he did with the character Michael in a previous story.
One suggestion: rather than give an “APB”-type description of a character, it could come in from a different angle of action to give the reader a visual. For instance, rather than say that Cloe was dressed in khaki pants, have her “wipe her hands on her khaki pants” as she works in the cave.
The addition of “Woody” in the story is interesting. Since the novel is unfinished, the necessity of his role is one that the evaluator imagines will pan out.
Setting: The author is attentive to setting scenes, giving good geographic descriptions and vivid sensory input for the most part. It would be good to weave a bit more into the story, to break up the dialogue and prevent the reader from being lost in a sea of talking heads. Good setting sets the mood: the author did a particularly good job at this in the Louisiana bar scene and the travels before and after. The Barcelona scenes were well-crafted.
Dialogue: The dialogue is realistic and properly tagged overall. It is used to tell the story as well as to reveal characters and their personalities.
Mechanics: The manuscript will need the usual scan for errors and inconsistencies. “Peaking” vs “peeking”; “further” vs “farther”; “Rubric’s cube”/Rubik’s cube; “hanger” vs “hangar.” Some names need attention for consistent spelling, such as Father Labot/Labotte, etc. Passive voice should also be addressed i.e. “…the ornate desk of the curator” vs “the curator’s ornate desk.”
Recommendations: When the author has completed the MS, the evaluator would be happy to revisit this engaging historic adventure, double-check the historic details/research, and do a developmental edit. There is much to savor in this latest tale.
Title: The title is appropriate for the theme of this collection of essays/blog posts.
Research/Documentation: As these are largely personal ruminations of the author, no research or documentation is warranted; however, where the author does discuss eco-statistics, history, or refers to works of literature as enhancement of theme, he does a good job of using support and documentation where needed. Some mild attention can be paid to this. One example is the use of Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which, in contrast to his theme of the pertinent essay, serves as rather a contradiction than support. The subject of the poem resists the allure of the woods because of his worldly commitments. He has “miles to go” before he can enjoy the nepenthe or “sleep” of the “lovely, dark, and deep” woods. The author, on the other hand, seeks every opportunity to escape to the woods.
Author Credentials: The author’s years of experience as an amateur naturalist as well as his years of hiking, gardening, etc. more than qualify him to write observations on the subjects. Again, many of the essays are also personal ruminations on family, personal philosophy, and life experiences.
Structure/Organization: The author’s writing is engaging and relatable, particularly for anyone who is a Hoosier, especially those from the southern third of the state. Since the essays have been posts to a blog, they have no particular order or structure when it comes to theme. The author’s writings center around four areas, the primary being his Walden-esque thoughts and observations while hiking Brown County State Forest and other areas. Second would be his thoughts on family life and people in general, such as “Horace,” who have influenced him. Third would be his writings on state history, gardening, wildlife, and conservation. Finally, there are personal essays on random subjects that are meant to provoke critical thinking, such as his “Clodhopper” post. This meditation on a pair of shoes is reminiscent of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s evocative and poignant “This Shirt,” One suggestion, if the author wants to put these in book form, is to organize them in sections with title pages. Rather than simple titles like “Family Life,” whatever, it is recommended that the author use creative words or quotes that might refer to an overall idea or theme for that section.
Some attention will have to be paid to making sure those who are not from the dominant geographical area about which he writes understand the various locations. For example, just referring to “Lowell Bridge” would mean nothing to an upstate New Yorker should they happen to come across his book.
One writing, a letter to the author’s nephew-in-law, might need some enhancement as to what prompted the author to write such a letter.
The author has sufficient material for a book. Additional writings could be added, maybe twenty pages or so, if the author desires, but it is not critical.
Some of the writings could be enhanced or clarified somewhat. This is purely suggestion, but the editor makes this recommendation based on areas where the reader may become disengaged or simply want or need “more.”
Tone: The author’s tone is meditative, rhythmic, and philosophical. The pace of his writing imitates a slow, gradual hike to an idea or conclusion. He uses vibrant description of the places or people he encounters. He brings the areas around his “Leaning Tree” and his favorite “Woodland Stream” to life so that the reader is connected with all their senses. His thoughts on “The Old Well” provoke the reader’s imagination: one possibility that the author does not offer as to the former inhabitants: they never left … they died there, buried in unmarked graves (or not at all), succumbing to any number of pre-antibiotics, nineteenth-century afflictions. When the author writes about a BLT, the author is prompted to procure some bacon and search frantically for what is known as an “Indiana Tomato,” the rich, red, succulent kind that drove one to the garden with the salt-shaker. Overall, the writing is not only a pleasant and thoughtful “hike” through the writer’s thoughts, but it is also a bible of reflection, where one can pause and reevaluate priorities. It’s a nature-lover’s Chicken Soup for the Soul, but deeper. The evaluator likens it more to a popular publication from the nineties: Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach.
Basic Punctuation/Grammar: While this is an area where writers can be ultrasensitive, it’s important to remember that while in the creative or imaginative mode, all writers, whether they are on the NYT Bestseller List, Pulitzer winners, or are on every major talk show, make mistakes. All writers need editors. Smart writers have editors. The main reason a writer has an editor is for content and continuity, rather than mechanics—but mechanics are important.
The writer is competent as far as the basics. There are few spelling or grammar errors in general. The evaluator noted one fragment, “quite a number of foes arrayed against our mussels”; some issues with verb agreement, some reordering needed of paragraphs, and a couple of basic spelling issues. Ex. Tabula rasa vs “tabla rosa.” The writer needs the usual level of line editing any author requires.
General Recommendations: The material is appropriate for a book but will need some organization and polishing before it can be a manuscript that is publish-ready. The evaluator recommends mild content editing, for organization of the material and some minor enhancement of certain writings. This process includes the line editing or mechanical correction process. Total word count is currently 36177. The editor estimates 15 hours total work on this project. This includes any phone conferencing with the author, as well as assistance with writing the cover copy and consultations on cover design, etc. The editor can recommend artists or publishers as needed and can help to guide the author toward a publisher that will charge a reasonable fee, give him a competent and competitive product, and also assist him in how to avoid excess charges and blatant opportunism in the industry.