“The Motion of the Body Through Space” by Lionel Shriver

Genre: Literary Fiction/SatireThe Motion
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pub. Date: April 20, 2020

I have enjoyed Lionel Shriver’s previous books but this one disappointed me.  “The Motion of the Body Through Space” is an okay read if you remember that you are reading a satire regarding the many Americans who take physical fitness to extremes and how easy it is to fall into mass conformity. It can get truly tiring to read an entire novel with a one-message theme pounded into your head nonstop.  If you are not in on the joke, the novel will drag on and on.  And, even if you are, the story still can get on your nerves.

The tale revolves around a happily married couple who are in their early 60s, living in Hudson, N.Y. Due to profession and physical bad luck, their senior years are not going as smoothly as their earlier years. The husband is fired from his job.  His self-esteem goes out the window.  He decides to run a marathon although he has never had any interest in any physical activities before.  That was always his wife’s gig until recently when her knees gave out.  However, she did her running by herself not part of a spectator’s sport. He makes his announcement to his wife. “In a second-rate sitcom, she’d have spewed coffee across her breakfast.” Adding more tension into the marriage after the marathon, he announces a new goal: a triathlon, under the guidance of an extremely toned, pretty, personal female trainer.  The author’s fictional MettleMan triathlon is her tongue in cheek way of not even bothering to hide the comparison to the real-life Metalman triathlon.

The novel is good at establishing the us-versus-them mentality. Wife to husband: “You do realize that organized sport is an industry?”  Husband to wife: “Soft drinks are an industry. We still buy soda water.” The trainer puts in her two cents, “anyone who says a discouraging word about MettleMan: you’re just gutless, indolent, and weak.” Suddenly, the wife is out of the window along with her husband’s job.  She wearily cries, “MettleMan isn’t just an exercise regime it’s a cult…The man I fell in love with has been kidnapped.”   The argument made throughout the book suggests that extreme sports might be a form of mental sickness.  Once at the multisport event race—that could do permanent physical damage to most of us— the founder of MetalMan gives a speech that leans more Nazi than motivational.  The wife thinks, “Leni Riefenstahl, where are you?”

Although the book can be funny, the punchline wears thin.  The story had the makings of a good romp regarding our weight-fitness obsessed culture, but the satire falls short.  In “Motion,” Shriver also attempts to take on parent-child issues, racial tensions, and politics, but they are hard to find due to the nonstop fixation on physical fitness. I do give her points for daring to write a novel with no likable characters. It is interesting getting into the psyche of those who train for marathons. Still, you might want to run, as fast as you can, away from this novel.

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“Virtue” by John Moot

Genre: Literary FictionVirtue
Publisher: Roads End Books
Pub. Date: August 4, 2020

Itsy-Bitsy Review

The media department for this novel reached out to me, via email, on reading and reviewing this novel. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in this book.  First, the genre is not literary fiction as marked. “Virtue” is more a contemporary family drama intertwined with politics. Secondly, and this is my own entire fault, the email reads, “Virtue is similar to An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.”  But, I was thinking the novel, “American Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld, which is modeled after the life of Laura Bush as recorded in Ann Gerhart’s biography “The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush.”

“Virtue” revolves around a marriage in trouble and their struggling teenage children.  The wife wants change.  She is sick of being an at-home mother. The husband is a college philosophy professor who is writing a political book. The President of the college wants him to tone down his political views, for fear of losing donors.   He refuses and may lose his job. Since a good chunk of the plot revolves around politics, I didn’t realize my mistake until I started to write this review. Possibly, if I went in knowing I was about to read a family drama, which I can enjoy, I may have enjoyed the tale more than I did. The novel has some thought provoking elements. Still, I do not usually care for novels that end neat enough to be wrapped up in a bow, as this one does.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Miracle Creek” by Angie Kim

Genre:  General Fiction/MysteryMircle Creek
Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton
Pub. Date:  April 16, 2019

This complex novel begins with a tossed cigarette causing an explosion that kills two people in what is believed to be premeditated murder.  Still, the story can read more sci-fi than murder-mystery.   This is because of a seemingly bizarre treatment for autism.  Parents who are seeking a miracle cure take their children into a large chamber that looks like a submarine.  The families take ‘dives’ where they are exposed to high levels of pressurized oxygen.  This is an actual treatment commonly used in Asia named “hyperbaric oxygen therapy” (HBOT).  This reviewer needed to google to learn that fact.  You can even buy a chamber online.  Turns out, the author was not bending reality.  Learning this took some of the fun out of the story, but have no fear, this is a very good murder-mystery. The author is a former litigator, which makes for authentic courtroom scenes.

The story centers around a South Korean American couple and their teenage daughter who recently arrived in the United States.  They own and run a small HBOT facility.  A mother and a child, not her own, both die in the chamber due to the explosion.   The mother of the deceased child was taking a parental break and she remained outside for that fatal session. This mom has been known to show her burnout and has said, while the other mothers only thought, “Sometimes I wish my child was dead.”   For this reason, she becomes the murder defendant on trial.  But the author keeps us guessing.  Could it have been the owners, who needed the insurance money?  Or perhaps a protesting mom who does not believe in the therapy?  All the twists make for an entertaining read.  What makes the story complex are the aspects of the characters’ individual lives.  The exhaustion and depression that comes from the daily superhuman caregiving demands placed on the mothers, the difficulty of the immigrant experience, the confusion of the teen who wants to go back to Korea, despite being more American in her speech and mannerisms than her parents will ever be.  It has been reported that HBOT can help with many other medical issues; a white American doctor married to a Korean American woman participates in the dives because his wife says it will help them conceive.  He personally believes the treatments are nonsense but appeases his wife, putting himself in what he considers a humiliating position—Great tension.

Combining a murder-mystery with family issues, the immigrant experience, and the keenly felt, heart-wrenching emotions of the parents makes for an interesting use of the genre.  There is even an emphasis on the social drama provoked by different parenting beliefs.  A group of protesting moms feel those who put their kids in these chambers (which can on rare occasions be dangerous) do not accept their children as they are, and want to ‘fix’ them.  They hold signs reading “I’m a child, not a lab rat.”   In the April 2019 Asian American Writers Workshop (AAWW) interview, the author’s shares that her own son received HBOT treatments.  Once again, Kim uses her personal experience to create a powerful human story disguised as a legal thriller.  Kim’s courtroom drama will pose threat to any others out there.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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