Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Take 6: Mother of Pearl

What's that?  You've not heard of a movie titled Mother of Pearl? Although a search on IMDB will reveal three little-known films with the same title, the Mother of Pearl I refer to is not a movie...yet!

It's a debut novel written by my friend (and high school pal) Kellie Coates Gilbert. Released in early September, it has already gone to second printing.  My infrequent Tuesday posts are typically my "take" on films or screenplays, but I wanted to give my "take" on the book Mother of Pearl, from a screenwriter's perspective.

As anxious as I was to read her novel, when the book finally arrived at my doorstep, I hesitated to read it.  What if it stunk?  What if I couldn't bring myself to finish it?  What would I say to her?  The last time I tried to read a novel written by someone I knew, it did not turn out well.  (I mention the experience in a previous post, titled Happy July Fourth!)  

Because of the difference in writing style, it's often annoying for me, as a screenwriter, to read a novel.  I know other screenwriters who suffer with the same dilemma.  We want action and dialogue and very little description.  We grow impatient with too much fluff bogging down the story, and don't enjoy wading through all the verbiage to get to the key points.  Even before I began writing screenplays I read novels by skimming over all the description "blah de blah de blah, get on with the story!"  But I was more tolerant then; now I'm quite critical.

I read Mother of Pearl from a screenwriter's point of view.  Was the story bogged down in too much description?  No!  I was happy to read a novel that flowed without the weight of flowery fluff.  Kellie did a fantastic job of moving the story with just enough description to give visual images and help me connect to the characters, but not so much to trigger, "Blah de blah de blah...."  Refreshing!

Here's the pitch on the back of the book:  Barrie Graeber has two great kids, a loving husband, and a respected job as the high school counselor in her close-knit community.  Without warning, everything unravels when her teenage daughter, Pearl, is betrayed and lashes out.

Nothing prepares this mother for the helplessness that follows when her attempts to steer her daughter back on course fail, and Pearl shuts her out...or when Barrie discovers the unthinkable about her nemesis, the football coach. 

Emotionally riveting and profoundly moving Mother of Pearl brings us into the heart of a mother bound by an incredible burden, who ultimately finds she must recognize her own vulnerability and learn to trust in something much bigger.

What worked:

  • The main character, Barrie, has flaws.  In other words, she is human.  She is quick to judge by appearance, and feels self-conscious about her own appearance at times, but she's also incredibly brave and stands for what she feels is right.  Other characters are also deep and interesting, some of which I hope show up as main characters in future novels, (especially Jackie).  
  • Barrie struggles with faith in God, and even though some of her friends and family want to help her find faith, they do not force it upon her.  I am a religious and spiritual person, but I was grateful the author treated the reader with the same respect.  She showed the faith without shoving it down the throat.
  • The story has depth, with undercurrents.  Barrie faces such a nightmare regarding her daughter, but there are other issues swishing around her too...her own overly-critical mother, the small town everyone-knows-your-business atmosphere, the winning-football-team-at-all-costs mindset, which includes the let's-sweep-it-under-the-rug solutions.

What didn't work:

  • Actually, the above quoted pitch on the back of the book does not work.  It led me to think the story was about a mother dealing with a rebellious daughter, but it's so much more than that.  That blurb doesn't give a clear understanding that the reader will be caught up in a heart-wrenching story with a hard-hitting topic that often gets ignored even after it hits the headlines.

The story is timely and intense.  Each chapter ending made me want to continue to the next.  And from a screenwriter's perspective, the novel would translate well onto the big screen.

Congratulations, Kellie, I hope you are enjoying your whirlwind book tour, but hurry home and write some more!

(Check out Kellie's website and blog to follow her adventures as she lives her dream: kelliecoatesgilbert.com)

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