A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is an excellent debut by Jan Ellison. Her writing is engaging, the plot is dynamic, and the characters are well developed.
With that in mind, I really struggled to fully sink into the world of the story at first because it is not written in a traditional linear fashion or from any traditional point of view.
Instead of telling the story in chronological order, even with occasional flashbacks, Ellison jumps back and forth - not just between two main time periods but all over the place. A perfect description of her style can be taken from her own words on page 265: "It was not the predictable, linear sort of effect one gets with actual dominoes. It was more like the elaborate constructions you used to make out of blocks and marbles and plastic tubes and pulleys and levers and ramps when you were young. Rube Goldberg machines, I think they're called. Architectural masterpieces that required every single curved and straight block, every groove, every angle and turn to be placed so precisely, the ball would roll smoothly on its intricate journey each time, finally coming to rest with a satisfied thud."
Ellison constructed the story in the first person POV of the main character, but wrote it as though she's telling the story to her son - often referred to as "you" in the writing. Since I'm obviously not the main character's son, I found that reading "you" was quite jarring and kept me at a distance from the meat of the story. However, as I got further into the story, I fell into the rhythm of the writing and really enjoyed turning each page to find out what was going to be revealed next.
While Ellison did an excellent job of developing each character, I really could never connect to the main character, or like her, or feel sympathy for her. She rarely acted for herself. Instead she merely REACTED to the choices others made around her. And she was so starved for love. Obviously, that was the basis for the story. She wanted to be loved. "I was muddled and unhappy. I had lost track of my place in the world, and the only way to get it back was to have Jonathan put it back for me. I told him because I wanted what everybody wants--to be known. To know oneself, and to tell the whole story of that self, and to be loved anyway" (page 256). I agree that we all want to be loved for our true selves, but that source of love needs to start from within.
There are sex scenes in the book. Nothing terribly detailed. And to quote the author again, this is how I felt about the sex in the book, "it seemed vaguely theatrical" (page 253).
There are occasional foul words. I could probably count them all with just my fingers. So not too many.
There's no violence in the book, unless you count the self-hatred by a few of the characters.
Ellison's writing is wonderful. "...my lips were loosened by wine, and Emme's temper was loosened by my words, and the memory of that dinner clings to me like a hangover that won't end" (page 224). "It was one in a series of towns strung together in the foothills, bounded by the western edge of the San Gabriel Mountains and linked by an unbroken thoroughfare of biker bars and auto shops and liquor stores" (page 44).
My favorite line from the book: "He walked toward me, his wing tips making the sound they always did on the hardwood floor--the contented thud of another workday ending, and another evening in the life of our family beginning" (page 194).
If you enjoy literary fiction, this book is for you. If you're in a book club, this would be a great selection. But if you prefer linear storytelling told from a simple point of view, this might not be the best book to pick up ... unless of course you want to exercise your brain a bit. ;)
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