Friday, December 21, 2012

Guest Review (and Giveaway): While I'm Still Myself by Jeremy Mark Lane (2.5/5)

By Jessica Veter

(For giveaway rules and entry instructions, see below)

Jeremy Lane’s ambitious collection, While I’m Still Myself, deals with very complex and emotionally charged themes which many writers lack the courage to tackle. Seven short stories touch upon mental health, poverty, abuse, racism and more. Lane presents us with characters directly affected by the issues and tries to personalise them with stories that touch his audience. It’s a daunting challenge he’s set himself. How can a writer deal sensitively with very serious social problems, make them universal, avoid stereotyping, make us care about his flawed characters and also provide a tight, dynamic short story?

I’m getting writers’ block just thinking about it.

A brave man, Mr. Lane, very brave indeed. But has he succeeded?

I feel not. In spite of the big ideas, moments of real beauty and touches of Truth, the stories generally lack character development and the writing style too often tells rather than shows. Rather than risk fully exploring their demanding themes, Lane’s stories slip into sentimentality. Unfortunately, like cliché, the easy ‘out’ for the writer is an equally easy ‘out’ for the reader. We disconnect and disengage.

But there are some really promising things in Lane’s writing. He is really interested in location. His descriptions of a bleak, barren Texas landscape are beautiful, and I see him placing that same landscape into the souls of his protagonists. Two stories in particular stand out to me: “The Reflection, Only Hers” and “The Pebblestone Five” (this one also has a fantastic title). These two are the longest tales in the collection, and the best. Here, I found the character development and story development I didn’t find in the others; here, also, the writer resisted the sentimentality slip... for the most part. But both stories feel incomplete: the themes (abuse, addiction, revenge) are left dangling unexplored, the characters are abandoned and the reader is left wondering what the purpose of the story was. (The Pebblestone Five ends just as the real story – can our society deal in a meaningful way with an underage criminal who has suffered years of abuse? – begins). Jeremy Mark Lane clearly has stories he needs to tell, but he’s not following through.

Jeremy Mark Lane
A writer’s job is to raise questions and dive in – to explore their ramifications and even to ask if the question was worth asking in the first place. Lane is certainly exploring those waters, but at most he’s gone in to the knees. What’s needed here is full submersion.

Holy crap, is this insane reviewer looking for a novel? Hell, yes. Bring it on. The themes in any one of these short stories is enough to fuel a novel, and I want it. Go on in, Mr. Lane, the water’s fine.

I double-dog dare you.

I’m giving While I’m Still Myself 2 1/2 stars: one for writing this sentence; “the entire town of Amarillo spread over the land like butter”, one for bravery, and half for the dare.

Jeremy Lane’s first collection of short stories, Here and Gone, was published in 2010 by Ether Books, a digital publisher located in the UK.

 While I’m Still Myself will be published in paperback by Tate Publishing early in 2012.His work has also been featured in many literary sites and journals, including Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal. A work of serial fiction, City On A Hill, is being published by Ether Books throughout 2011.

 Please note that this month Jeremy Lane and Ether are donating all of Jeremy's paid story proceeds to the Newtown Youth and Family Services.
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About the Reviewer:  Jessica Veter is a novelist living in rural Ontario. She is married to a long-suffering engineer and together they are raising three boys. Her website is www.jessicaveter.com.









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Mr. Lane has been kind enough to offer up an electronic copy of the book for a giveaway.  Since it's an ebook, the contest is open to all domestic and international entrants.  Sign up to win using the Rafflecopter widget below.


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9 comments:

  1. Great review by Jessica. I like that she double-dog dares the author :)

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    Replies
    1. I freely admit to borrowing the phrase from A Christmas Story. 'Tis the season.

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  2. I quite loved the stories. Sorry you didn't care for them

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    Replies
    1. I did like the stories, actually. But I did want more, and I honestly think Jeremy has the skill as a writer to go deeper (hence the dare).

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  3. Nice review. Please enter me.

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