Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Moving Violations: a review

To buy Moving Violations at Amazon click here.

I can't stand book reviews.

Here's why: reading reviews in a serious manner is like asking a group of kindergarteners what their favorite color is, and on that basis, choosing how to dye your hair. I also find that highly opinionated reviews drift frequently into the absurd. Kurt Vonnegut put this best: "Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae."

My favorite writers at the moment are David Sedaris (who is "boring, not very funny, mean and bitchy, and too lazy to write a novel"), Anne Lamott (of whom it is said: "reading about someone else's needless suffering is about as attractive as watching it in person"), and Glennon Melton, who inspired the following sentiment: "After reading her book, I think I'd go batty if I were in her company for more than half an hour." For me, these writers are best friends that exist in 2D form. For others, obviously they represent something altogether different—perhaps small pox, or crab lice.

For this reason, I feel that I would generally rather not add my voice to the general din. Who, honestly, cares what I think about other people's books?

Nevertheless, I'm going to do just this. Why? Nicole Amsler. I met her at the Erma Bombeck Writer's Conference last April when I went. She was in every way pleasant, congenial, well-mannered, good-smelling, and friendly. I consider her a friend. She has written a book and this book is now in print and—what's more—it is really good.

I want to tell you about it.

Her book, Moving Violations, is a collection of short stories concerned with themes of transportation and death. There are nine of these in all. The book, at 89 pages, is slim enough to hide under a pillow so that young children cannot find it. (This is probably a good idea, by the way. There are some themes of sexual abuse and grief which would not necessarily make good read-aloud material.)

The stories showcase Amsler's considerable range as a scribe of the human experience. A self-described writer of "Midwestern dysfunction," her characters are, in each story, put through their moral paces and asked to redeem themselves. It's as if we, as readers, are Peter at the gates of Heaven and the protagonists, in turn, show up, are summarily stripped of the trappings of their egos and are made to justify their actions on this earth. Make no mistake: this is not an insipid, predictable touched-by-an-angel motif. Each studio-sized plot is well-wrought and believable, if fantastic in being a worst-case-scenario.

We first meet a grieving widower as he confronts the loss of the wife he lost to breast cancer; he is giving away her belongings at a garage sale put together by his insensitive daughter, who just wants him to move on. Amsler artfully manages to convey strength, anger, grief, attachment, and compassion in her believable dialogue. Immediately, I was hooked and wanted more. I consumed the book more or less whole, like a small carton of sorbet that was supposed to last the week.

My favorite of her nine stories is "Burnt Offerings." For a parent, reading it is somewhat like watching a cat kill small robins in the nest. And yet it's compelling. The character, Cole, is a jerk; horrible, contemptible; he thinks of a sweet little girl on the airplane as "Mongloid," is unable to see or really understand the heart of his own son. But—boom!—life punishes him in such a way that you can't help but want to hold him, to soothe him and tell him it's OK. Amsler keeps us with him, through the moment of loss and disaster, and well after—through brutal pain, humanization. She expertly paints every single tiny detail in the landscape of misery and redemption so that, in the locus of horror, we see how he learns how to love.

Each of the six other stories—whether that of a sorority sister going through airport security in a red negligĂ©e; or of a girl taken out for driving lessons (and worse) in a family hearse; or of the first responder at the sight of an airplane crash who meets a victim with the same name as his late wife—is a complete meal in itself, one that, like me, you'll probably eat too fast.

Moving Violations is fabulously dark but ultimately hopeful. The characters are genuine, the plots believable. Amsler has done her job here in crafting plots and characters. All this sin and redemption, death, and moving from one place to one another are somehow about all of us: We are magnified and cast in shadow, driven off roads and set on fire, blinded, haunted, and bursting with momentary glory—before we flash finally off the page.

Note: I was not compensated in any way for this review.


  1. Damn! Okay okay - you hooked me! Death and sex? How can I resist!
    btw, David Sedaris is right up there on my list too. Anne Lamott is for the reflective days - Glennon Melton? I have discovered that I am apparently to cynical to read her.... I couldn't make it through her book that I had from the library last week.

    1. It really is a good read. You made me laugh about Glennon. It's funny for me to realize that she has this affect on some people. And good. When I was writing my book, I was constantly thinking, after I had read hers, that I sounded so dark by comparison. It's good to hear that dark is just better for some people.

  2. Thank you SO much for the wonderful, overly kind review.

    Supposedly, everyone naturally dislikes 10% of people. I always feel like I have earned a higher number of dislikes. But I know that overly-saccharine people annoy me, like Delilah on the radio and Beth Moore. I used to love Beth but her bubbliness grates on me.

    But I do love Glennon and I am awed at her transparency. I would probably never gather up the gumption to speak to her but I enjoy reading her. However, I think The Bloggess is the bee's knees, and I would happily hide out in the bathroom stall with her.

    So each to their own and I am so glad I am in your Like column. Thanks again!

    1. I just fetched your comment out of my spam filter where all things go that I actually needed.

      I think you've done tremendous work to get this one paltry review from me and it is just a herald of things to come, so no need to thank me overmuch for it. But you are more than welcome in any case!


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