Saturday, December 8, 2012

Shades of Teale by Susan Crossman, reviewed by F.H.Lee

Manor House Publishing Inc. 288 pages, paperback. Purchasing info here.

This book seems to have been written by a sister of mine or at least by a cousin who lives nearby. I was looking forward to reading the book, knowing that I would enjoy Susan Crossman's slick energetic and personable writing style. I had the pleasure of discovering her wit from her pieces on Quick Brown Fox and had chuckled my way through some of her Globe and Mail “Facts and Arguments” essays.

Susan makes me laugh, but tears can sneak in unexpectedly, sewing together the sorrow and joy that most of us know exist simultaneously at times. Her daringly honest but amusing personal accounts are immediately enthralling, so my confidence in Susan's first fiction novel, when it arrived in my mailbox for review purposes, was unwavering.

The cover art is captivating. The plain teal colour of the book frames the gorgeous image of a waif we have all met or seen or been. Teale is an interesting choice for the name of the main character, since the colour itself is a shade of blue, synonymous with sadness and moods of depression. Susan has done her homework. Volunteering in a women's shelter gave Susan heightened insight into the dark corners of the rooms that many women find themselves in.

Susan Crossman
Susan has woven every despicable trait she can find into the man of Teale's dreams, and the beginning of their relationship seems almost funny, until it is not. David is a selfish spoiled slob of an excuse for a masculine lead, but since he shines up rather nicely, no one notices. Money can do that: add lustre to dreariness, obscuring keen vision.

I had to bite the bullet after putting the book down several times and walking away. Not from bad writing or lack of story, but because it made me so angry! The main character is melancholy, make-it-work Teale, and I just wanted to whack her over the head a few times with some well placed pillow fight advice. I restrained myself with great effort and proceeded to read Shades of Teale, slowly.

She grew on me, Teale. I liked the fact that she was looking back, in retrospect, but the colours of her memories were still painfully vivid. Not black and white, not a whiter shade of pale (as the song says) but technicolour Teale. A tasteful glimpse of too frequent tragedy. When the world seems too good to be true, it usually is, but often remains stubbornly out of sight for the immersed participant, hands flailing stubbornly trying to keep the head above the current.

I was frustrated with other family members on both sides. Yes, I wanted to crack a few heads together, not just Teale's, but that is entirely counterproductive to the theme of domestic violence, n'est-ce pas? The injustice of the pompous rich in this story is infuriating, as is the obliviousness with which they live their lives of entitlement, and make a wonderful talented loving woman feel common, lacking, incompetent, and inconsequential. 

The detail in this book makes my mouth water. I chomped on every morsel. I let some choke me, for it was important to do so. I let some satisfy me, right through to the bitter righteous ending. I watched Teale rearrange the pieces of her heart and her life. And I cheered.

F.H. (Francine) Lee spends too much time deliberating over her favourite fictional character – a stalemate between the disciplined but philosophical Lee in East of Eden and  Mrs. Dubose in To Kill a Mockingbird, the bravest person Atticus had ever known. Francine has taped Brian Henry's advice from his  “How to make yourself write” workshop to the front door, so that she can stop explaining why she's never home, and after thirty odd years of writing, on and off, she’s published numerous works of poetry, flash fiction, and nonfiction both online and in print.

Quick Brown Fox welcomes book reviews and other book related pieces. I also welcome reviews of plays, movies, restaurants and anything else that catches your fancy. Reviews may be straight up or tongue in cheek. You might review restaurants you can’t afford, based on what you can see peering through the window. Or you might review the patrons of some event, rather than the event itself. Or you might otherwise use your imagination to get up to some mischief. Please keep reviews short and as free of clumsy prose and grammatical mistakes as possible. Email them to me at:

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