Book Review: Dakota Blues by Lynn Spreen

Dakota Blues is a book I heard about through Twitter. I was drawn to it because the setting is North Dakota. Back in the day, I first flew to North Dakota on North Central Airlines and arrived in Fargo in the middle of winter.

My contact met me outside the airport driving a rugged four wheel drive vehicle. The wind blew constantly and produced what looked to be a permanent swirling mist of snow that came up to my knees.

Lynn’s book gives us a taste of Los Angeles before we get to North Dakota.Two places entirely opposite.  We are immediately introduced  to Karen Grace who works for an LA based company as their human resources director. Her boss, Wes, is a boss few of us would admire. In my mind he is one of the villains of the story, but he is also the catalyst for what Karen does with the rest of her life.

At fifty years old, Karen has been almost blissfully counteracting and softening Wes’s demands of others. Then one day her boss interferes with events which have produced for Karen a timeline not of her making. This brings pressures ill timed and unwarranted that Wes certainly exacerbates. Karen had no plans for changing her life, but life is about to change her.

As Wes accelerates his lack of tact toward Karen’s co-workers and brings on an utter lack of compassion for her, he drives Karen to reconsider what she took to be her life’s work.  A work she has been compulsively performing.

Although Karen has been living and working in California for some time, her formative years were in North Dakota. Her mother and many of childhood friends still live there. She has become used to Wes as well as to California and host of other things.

Then one day she receives a phone call from a cousin that her mother has died. Against Wes’s wishes she returns to “her hometown on the Northern Plains.”

Upon her arrival in North Dakota, we learn that her husband is leaving her. What follows is a dialogue at the airport with her cousin Lorraine.

“Where’s Steve?” 

Karen blinked, lost in her memories. “He’s not here. He couldn’t come.” 

Lorraine reached for a suitcase. “Is everything okay?”

Karen stopped what she was doing and looked Lorraine in the eye. Around them, the terminal cleared as North Dakotans headed for town. “I think we’re getting divorced.”

Having spent a dozen or more years in Minnesota, eight in California, and now over twenty in New England, I love the way author Lynn Spreen paints the picture of North Dakota as compared to the West (or indirectly the East). It is a place that stands on its own, and except for, or because of winter, a good place to live. As the book unfolds, so much of life gets in Karen’s way and yet each obstacle becomes an opportunity.

I found the way life molded me at fifty far different (and maybe more effective) than when I was twenty. Perhaps  it wasn’t life that changed, but me. This is how I saw Karen. Her life experiences accumulated at fifty enabled her to take on events that conceivably at a younger age she might not have considered.

Dakota Blue’s characters are delightful and real. Karen gets reacquainted with old friends and meets some new ones, among them a splendid woman of about ninety years old who has lots of adventure.

In the second half  of the book the tensions increase and (maybe metaphorically) the pace grows ever more rapid. As Karen’s escapades expand and contract, the reader is taken on an exciting journey. I highly recommend Dakota Blues.

What a Memorable Book? How The Dead Dream: A Novel

One of my biggest obstacles to writing is reading, and as I have only just discovered, this includes the writing of book reviews. I have fallen three books behind in my reviewing and I can hardly remember this book.

I know it has something to do with saving the earth, but only in a subtle fiction kind of way. I know too that you could blame my memory on my age and you might be right. I must confess if this is so, I hardly remembered this book a day after I finished it. I remember asking myself if I liked it, and I said I thought I did.

Lydia Millet is the author and has just written a sequel called Magnificence. It is one of those books that then follows the title with “a novel.” In fact both books do. One day such wording might become a flag for me, but not yet. My understanding is that this book and the older one have quite a following. I feel at this point, given my current state of remembrance, I must bring in some outsider information.

Amazon offers the following as a book description;

“As a wealthy, young real-estate developer in Los Angeles, T. lives an isolated life. He has always kept his distance from people — from his doting mother to his crass fraternity brothers — but remains unaware of his loneliness until one night, while driving to Las Vegas, he hits a coyote on the highway.

The experience unnerves him and inspires a transformation that leads T. to question his business pursuits for the first time in his life, to take a chance at falling in love, and finally to begin breaking into zoos across the country, where he finds solace in the presence of animals on the brink of extinction.

A beautiful, heart-wrenching tale, How the Dead Dream is also a riveting commentary on inidividualism and community in the modern social landscape and how the lives of people and animals are deeply entwined. Judged by many — including the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post Book World — to be Millet’s best work to date, it is, as Time Out New York perfectly states: “This beautiful writer’s most ambitious novel yet, a captivating balancing act between full-bodied satire and bighearted insight.”

Also from Amazon I give you the author’s bio:

Lydia Millet (born 5 December 1968) is an American novelist. Her third novel, My Happy Life, won the 2003 PEN-USA Award for Fiction. Her fifth novel, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart was short-listed for the 2007 Arthur C. Clarke Award. Her 2009 collection of short stories entitled Love in Infant Monkeys was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Her 2011 novel Ghost Lights, a New York Times Notable Book, was the second in a cycle of novels that began with How the Dead Dream in 2008. Her new novel, Magnificence (2012) completes the cycle. Salon wrote of Millet’s work, ‘The writing is always flawlessly beautiful, reaching for an experience that precedes language itself.'”

You might say I failed at my review, but I did get more caught up. As I said, I liked the book, I just couldn’t remember it. The good news is my physical is this Thursday. The bad news is I probably will not tell my doctor about this blog.

I have no plans to buy the sequel. I am moving on. I hope you read it so you can tell me how wrong I am.

Next up: Dakota Blues by Lynne Spreen

Comments about J.P.Beaumont mystery by J.A.Jance, Until Proven Guilty

A friend of mine died last year. A friend who left lots of books behind. Knowing that I am a reader, those who were responsible for dispersing her belongings asked if I would be interested in taking some of her books. No never crossed my mind.

She was a minister. I am a pastor. A fine line that may have nothing to do with what I chose. The thing is I passed up on all her religious books and went straight to her mysteries, sy-fy, and thriller books, most of which I had not heard of before or heard of only remotely. This last is the case with J.A. Jance.

From her website I learned that J.A. stands for Judith Ann. “Jance was born October 27, 1944 in South Dakota and raised in Bisbee, Arizona. She was the first in her family to attend a four-year college. She graduated with a degree in English and Secondary Education. She also went on to receive her M.Ed. in Library Science. She briefly taught high school before becoming a K-12 librarian. Throughout college she wanted to be a writer, but was thwarted by a provincial professor who frowned upon female writers.

Her first husband, an alcoholic writer, also dismissed her desire to write. After his death, she began writing again in the wee hours of the morning before the demands of single motherhood began for the day. In 1985, her first Detective Beaumont book was published. Since then she has remarried a wonderful and supportive man and become a successful author.”

Jance has written over a dozen J.P.Beaumont mysteries. Beaumont is a man and this first mystery with him as the main character was entertaining. It was the last book I read in 2012. It is a good mystery.

As with Dexter, the serial killer portrayed on TV, the bad guy is actually likable. Problem is likable or not, they still kill people. Who would think we would struggle over this, but in Until Proven Guilty I did.

This is not a deep book. It is a fast read. It is what I call a filler. After having read The Absolutionist, it was the perfect read.

Next up: How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet

More Information about and a Selection from The Absolutist

Absolutist–is one who believes in absolute principles in political, philosophical, ethical, or theological matters.

The book takes place in the trenches of WWI

The two main characters are arguing over where to take a stand; Will is willing to die for his principal of no longer engaging in combat; too many wrongs he has seen. Here is the scene.

“Don’t die Will.”

He frowns a little and looks up at me. “Don’t you have any principles, Tristan? Principles for which you would lay down your life, I mean.”

“No,” I say, “People, perhaps. But not principles. What good are they?”

“You don’t really believe in anything at all, do you Tristan? I don’t say this to hurt you, really I don’t. I just mean that you run away from things, that’s all. From your family, for example. From your friendships. From right and wrong. But I don’t. You see, I can’t. I’d like to be more like you of course. If I was, there’d have been more a chance I would get out of this bloody mess with my life.”