Sunday, 12 January 2014

A Moment (Moments #1) by Marie Hall

A Moment (Moments, #1)

A chance meeting... Life didn't turn out the way I'd ever hoped it would. I got pregnant at 14. Same year my mom got diagnosed with MS. Dad bailed on us and my life felt like it suddenly started to spiral out of control. I'm 21 now, I go to college, I work hard, trying to make something of myself. I wasn't supposed to be at that burlesque bar Valentine's Day. I wasn't supposed to meet Ryan Cosgrove, but I did. And now nothing will ever be the same. Love born from pain... 
I'm a retired Marine, an MMA fighter, and when I was younger something terrible happened to me. Life is hard and I'm so tired of pretending it's not. I'm in a burlesque bar, drowning my sorrows, trying to shut out the demons breathing down my neck always reminding me I'm not good enough. Then I see Liliana Delgado and something inside of me- something I'd thought long dead- stirs to life. I wonder... can she save me? I hope she can, because I don't think I can save myself. This is our moment...

Since we’re still in that all-important “getting to know you” phase of our relationship, there are a few writing-specific idiosyncratic aspects of my personality you should probably be aware of.  Don’t worry, aside from these slight quasi-foibles I am otherwise totally perfect.  I swear. 

The first thing you should be aware of is that I am exceptionally forgiving and permissive when it comes to independent publications.  As a writer and sometimes editor, I understand the value of professional editing and know the price tag it comes with.  Most self-published authors have neither the benefit of this kind of oversight, myself included, or the impartiality when it comes to their own works.  I guess this could be construed as unfair, my leniency taken as unduly advantageous to the independent writers.  To that I say: So?  In my estimation, if you’re playing in the big leagues and have big dollars backing you, you’d better bring your A-game and should be held to a higher standard.

My second admission on the day: I am exceptionally unforgiving when it comes to sexual assault as a plot device.  Listen, I am all for using anything you want, so long as it works.  My one caveat is that you’d better know what the hell you’re writing about.  Far too often I’ve seen rape and sexual assault utilized without any care or consideration, or even basic knowledge, of the psychological aspects of that kind of violation.

It seems there's this need to either minimize the aftermath of rape altogether or to create characters who are zombie-like, morose victims who can’t conjugate a verb or tie their shoes. What’s missing in all of this is a fundamental understanding of the impact intrinsic to that kind of abuse. It's not like being robbed or carjacked. It's not like being mugged. Sexual assault is so personal, so intimate, and becomes so tethered to feelings of self-worth, self-reliance and control, it takes a long time to untangle from the mess it leaves behind and it’s a process that can sometimes take a lifetime.
The Plot:
Just in case you’ve been asleep at the wheel, it should be noted that A Moment is a self-published novel.  And, in case you were hibernating at the wheel, it bears mentioning that this novel focuses quite a bit on the aftermath of sexual assault. So, if you’re looking for something warm and fuzzy, this book is probably not for you; and while the plot isn’t necessarily too involved, it is on the grittier side.  In short, this is no warm, gooey, fluff piece.  A Moment tackles some rather unpleasant issues like molestation, teen pregnancy and dealing with the hardships of being the sole provider of long-term care to a dying parent.  While, yes, at the heart of this novel there is a love story, it too is not without its hurdles.
The writing in this novel felt very conversational, coupled with the fact that it’s told in first-person with alternating perspectives moved the story along quite effectively.  There were, however, a few short chapters utilized by the author to advance the timeline, which I found totally unnecessary and actually bogged down the storytelling.  Aside from that one criticism, the story flowed fluidly and it’s fairly easy to get caught up in its characters’ lives.
Yes, there were some other flaws in this novel and while I may be lenient, I am neither blind nor deceptive.  My credibility is important to me, so while I may be permissive, I do endeavor to be honest. There were grammar and structural issues that could have been ironed out with a solid edit, but as noted above, I gave these a pass as they were not egregious errors and did little to detract from the story overall. Aside from the technical aspects, I did feel as though the ending wrapped up a little too quickly and too easily. Certainly after all he had endured, Ryan had earned his “Happily Ever After”, but his epiphany happened in a manner which didn’t ring true based on all that had come before.  Sometimes the battle we fight to overcome something becomes as large as its catalyst.  Ryan had spent the majority of his lifetime battling his demons and so, to see him conquer them so readily and with little reticence, left me wanting.
Additionally, I took some issue with Javier (Lili’s son) as a character. He was noted as being a High Functioning Autistic but his behavior mirrored that of a Low Functioning Autistic, and at times his mere presence seemed more like a plot device than anything else. When I read, I like for all of the pieces to connect, and these are the few that just didn’t.
This cover looks awfully Christmasy, doesn’t it?  I guess if I had any real criticism that would be it, because there is little Christmas cheer to be found in its pages.  But I kind of like the ambiguity created by the blurring effects toward the bottom.  That kind of ambiguity was present throughout the novel and seems appropriately reflected on the cover.  Also, I love the model chosen to portray Ryan.  He’s simply perfect.  As for Lili?  Honestly, I’d pictured her differently, but that’s such a minor complaint, you can go ahead and ignore me.

A Moment is very much a character driven novel, focusing on the growth, healing and setbacks of its two protagonists, Ryan and Lili.  As I’m certain you’ve picked up on already, Ryan has had a very tumultuous life.  His ability to function fairly normally while also suffering bouts of depression, rage, fear, and horrific nightmares rang true. His moods vacillate based on timing, situation and circumstance. He is always suspicious of people’s motivations and never feels fully alive or worthy, but regardless of the weight he carries, has moments of truth and joy. This is where the author truly did a fantastic job.  Ms. Hall created a character who is caustic and unpleasant and honest and loveable, all at the same time.

But wait, she wasn’t done.  As a compliment to Ryan’s abrasiveness, she created Lili who is genuine and unassuming and no-nonsense and kind.  What really worked well was the juxtaposition between Ryan and Lili’s characters. In many respects they are alike, but they are also different enough to be compelling to the other. Let me explain. Lili, too, has experienced some life altering challenges. After getting pregnant at fourteen, Lili gives birth to a child with autism, at which point her father abandons her, leaving her with a mother with advancing MS and Lili is left alone to take care of everyone. What I liked and appreciated about Lili is that she put her head down and soldiered on. Yes, there were times she felt sorry for herself, but it was never in a "woe is me" kind of way. It was truthful and these instances seemed more like observations rather than opportunities to mope. When she cried, it was over real stuff, not imagined, and when she hurt, trust me it had been earned. But it was her unflinching ability to love unconditionally and without pretense that sucked Ryan in (and me too) and ultimately made him want to be better.

I think it's key to mention that though Ryan initially saw her love as a healing mechanism, the author didn't paint him as someone completely delusional. Eventually Ryan understood that healing is a journey that is up to the individual to take. Sure, you can have others there to help you along the way, but they can't do the work for you and that's an important distinction. Love cannot heal you, it can only make you want to heal yourself.
Alex, Ryan's cousin and Lili's good friend, was another example of strength in this novel. His dogged dedication to Ryan was beautiful. These men loved one another, it was clear from the onset. Alex took a lot of crap from Ryan, truly rank and vile crap, but he never once faltered in his commitment. His personal sacrifices and absolute conviction were really something lovely to behold. Far too often men are painted as chest-thumping troglodytes incapable of emotion. OR they're painted as emasculated wussies, as if somehow the love of one man for another is a weakness. Alex is neither weak nor indifferent. He is earnest and thoughtful, insightful and strong. I loved him and am so happy to learn that the author plans to do a second book, focusing on this character.

The meat of this review is focused on the characters in this novel because that’s squarely where it should be.  Is this some fascinating and involved plot?  No, not really.  Was the writing perfect?  Nope.  But what it lacked in some areas it made up for with strong, concise voices which carried this novel to its inevitable end and left me feeling happy I’d taken the ride.  So, don’t let the subject matter scare you off.  If you like independent publications and are looking for something immersive and different, please give this one a try.

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