Monday, 30 March 2015

Review: Opening Act by Suleikha Snyder

4 stars

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a book in possession of a Princess Bride reference within the first two sentences is going to be an excellent read.  And Suleikha Snyder's Opening Act starts strong with a band called 'The Brute Squad' .  For those of you who have forgotten the line that comes from, or (heaven forbid) haven't seen the movie, here's a little reminder:

But back to Opening Act.  Journalist Saroj Shah has been in love with her friend, Adam Harper - guitar player of the aforementioned band - for years.  Adam's been burying his head in the sand for just as long.  But when Adam finally wakes up and decides he wants her too, Saroj isn't sure he's serious.  After all:
He was big, doofy all-American Adam.  She was Saroj "where are the twenty gold wedding sarees" Shah...No one looked at the two of them and thought, Yes, they should be together.  That makes sense.  
Most of the novel's conflict is internal, stemming from the hero and heroine's beliefs about themselves and others. When I first finished the book, I felt vaguely disappointed with this.  I kept thinking there would be some big denouement, but there never was and then suddenly it was over.  When I sat down to write this review, it was beccause I needed to vent about reaching the end before I was mentally prepared for it.  But this is not Snyder's fault; it often happens when I read books on Kindle.  The little percentage in the bottom right corner misleads me because it often includes 10%-20% samples of other titles.  

Anyway, once I got over my trauma at being abruptly ripped out of bookland, I re-evaluted and realised that Opening Act was actually a really wonderful novella.  Too often authors try to squeeze too much into a novella, or they use the format to avoid characterisation all together.  Sometimes, they manage both simultaneously.  But Snyder developed her characters and their attitudes well (I especially like the sidekick, Johnny Ray).  To have introduced an external conflict late in the piece would have spoiled the burgeoning relationship between Adam and Saroj, and overshadow Saroj's self-realisation, in which she de-colonised her mind to the point where she went "damn straight, I'm good enough for Adam and stuff what anyone else thinks".  (That's not a direct quote, guys, I promise.  Snyder's writing is heaps better than that.  See actual quote above about doofiness and sarees.)  

So, overall, I really liked Opening Act, and I probably would have loved it if I'd had a better conception of its length and content starting out.  But I do feel a bit weird about making it one of my #WNDB reads (or having them at all).  I've been reading the author's blog and she's understandably disillusioned by white people hijacking conversations that should be for POC.  I would hate to think that, in trying to broaden my horizons, I am being like those men who appear in the comments section of anything ever written about feminism.  Not the 'what about teh menz' ones, but the ones that think that my manslpaining feminism and talking over other people's lived experience, they are actually helping the cause.  It usually ends up with something like this:

But then she also wrote another post entitled If You've Read One of Us, You Haven't Read Us All, where she says: 
“I’ve read one author of color, so I’m done now” is a real thing. We feel it when we put books out there, when we pitch to editors and agents...Can you imagine saying, “Well, I read Sarah MacLean, so I’m full up. I don’t need to read Tessa Dare or Lisa Kleypas or Nora Roberts!”?"
My first thought on reading this was 'what would I do if I had to choose Sarah MacLean or Tessa Dare?' and it made me feel a bit panicky.  Back on topic, maybe fetishising diversity and patting ourselves on the back for reading something different isn't the best way to go about things.  But, then, maybe you can only fight fire with fire.  So, after talking that through and resolving absolutely nothing, I leave you with these two tweets to think about:

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