Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: February 2014

Book Review: The Compartmentalized Man

Available from Rainy Day Books and other fine booksellers.
Last week I wrote about Joe Pike, the “Closed Man.”  This week’s protagonist, Will Robie, takes the “unemotional man” thing a step even farther.
Will Robie isn’t just closed: he’s a stone-cold hit man with major skills and apparent ice water for blood . . . except he’s just turned forty, and without exactly noticing it, he’s started to have a midlife crisis.
You might well ask, “How the heck can you have a midlife crisis without noticing it?”  It’s a pretty amazing feat of compartmentalization going on, there, truly.
I enjoyed watching Baldacci pull it off.  He hits just the right balance.
Robie notices that he’s occasionally experiencing certain disquieting reactions.  You or I would call them “normal emotions,” but his reaction is essentially to think something on the order of damn, that makes me uncomfortable, and then he puts up a new wall.
Author David Baldacci in 
a recent photo.

If all he had to deal with were straightforward jobs, clean and cold, he might get away with this approach.  Unfortunately for Robie, life keeps putting challenging women in his path.

First there’s Julie, a young teenager in whom Robie is surprised to find a number of admirable qualities.  He rescues her, and subsequently feels responsible for her—even though this feeling of responsibility irritates, puzzles, and burdens him in unaccustomed ways.  Somehow, that particular wall keeps falling over.
Then there’s Nikki Vance, a tough-minded, perceptive FBI agent with whom he regularly locks horns, but with whom he also has to cooperate, if he’s going to find up who tried to set him up, then kill him.
And finally there’s his neighbor Annie Lambert, with whom he has possibly one of the most weirdly passionless liaisons I’ve ever read about, even though at one point they end up in bed with each other.  And man, is THAT ever confusing for poor Will Robie, who apparently hasn’t had sex (at least not with a partner) in years!
Annie Lambert actually is my biggest complaint about this book.  Her role in the climax (of the STORY—not the other presumed climax, which we don’t get to see) was one I saw coming, and hoped I was wrong—but no, Baldacci went there. 
The other difficulty with the ending is the emotional impact of the dramatic “reveal” at the climax.  That impact is seriously blunted by the fact that the viewpoint character, through whose eyes we are seeing the action, is doing everything in his power NOT to have an emotional reaction.
All things considered, however, I’d still recommend The Innocent. It’s a good read, a good mystery, and an interesting, challenging character portrayal that’s handled well.   

IMAGE CREDITS: Cover image for the book is courtesy of Rainy Day Books.  The photo of David Baldacci is from the Feb. 27, 2014 issue of Barnes & Nobles online Review.

Artdog Quote of the Week

When considering our choices, it is wise to reflect on what is and is not a genuine choice.

IMAGE CREDIT: Many thanks to the “Technology Rocks. Seriously.” Blog for the thought and the imagery.

Book Review: The Closed Man

Book Reviewed: The Sentry (2011) 
Author: Robert Crais

Available from: Rainy Day Books, or other fine booksellers.

I have been sampling the collection in my late aunt’s extensive library of thrillers and crime fiction. Here are some thoughts about one of her books, The Sentry, by Robert Crais.

Joe Pike and Elvis Cole are two of Crais’ recurring characters, although it so far doesn’t look as if my aunt had other titles in this series.  If a person was coming to this book in the context of the series, s/he might have different expectations. However, this was my first exposure to Pike and Cole. 

Robert Crais is an accomplished author, and his characters Joe and Elvis have a worldwide following, so even before I opened the cover I knew Crais would be doing a lot of things very well.  The mystery is well-conceived, the setting (Venice, California) adds enjoyable color, the viewpoints are clearly distinguished and well-chosen, the characters are all individual, believable, and interesting, and the suspense is written fairly effectively (more on that in a bit).

On the whole, the book rewards reading.

But. (You knew that was coming.) A major problem with noir heroes–for me, anyway–is the fact that they are Closed Men.

Tough. Hyper-competent. Emotionless. 

I kept imagining that if my writers’ group was reading this as a manuscript, there’d be a lot of frustrated marginalia to the effect of “What is he feeling, here?  What is he thinking?”  

Joe Pike does not acknowledge, even to himself, that he has emotions, other than practicing a sort of Zen mind-set to keep himself from feeling his emotions. This makes for a distinctive character, I’ll say that.

Unfortunately, the down-side is that he’s also not terribly relatable, and the distance he keeps from his feelings also defeats some of the reactions a writer really wants his or her readers to be feeling at the climax.  

Joe does everything in his power to keep from feeling the very strong emotions that must certainly be in play when people are shooting at him, for instance, or when he is doing the Decisive Things noir heroes have to do. As a result we, the readers, don’t really feel it very much.

In the writing, this emotionlessness can bleed over into characters who are supposed to be more in touch with their feelings, such as Elvis. At one dramatic point near the end of the book Elvis shed tears–but we do not feel his pain, so we (at least I) have no trouble staying dry-eyed. 

I’m sure Crais wasn’t going for a multi-hankie tear-jerker, but if my character was crying, I’d want the readers to feel something.

Another problem I have with the Closed Man viewpoint is that Joe Pike seems always to know what to do next–but he doesn’t clue the readers in to his thoughts. The result is a kind of myopic, “He went here.  He did this.  Next he went there.  He did that.” 

Joe Pike does not explain himself. Either we “get it,” or we don’t, and he doesn’t care which. He also does not second-guess himself, or appear to have many doubts–not even when he should. To me, that’s not “strong,” so much as kind of arrogant, and damned lucky more often than chance ought to allow.

He keeps his own counsel, and acts rather than speaking. His moral compass exists, but it’s pointing in a somewhat different direction from most people’s.  He’s very selective whose pain he cares about, and he also seems to see a brighter, clearer line between “dirtbags” and “acceptable people” than most. I think in his own mind he’s somewhere outside of either category.

Joe Pike doesn’t care whether I like him or not. Unfortunately, by the end of the book I don’t much care about him, either.

IMAGE CREDITS: the cover art is courtesy of Rainy Day Books‘ website, from the listing spotlighting the book.  The photo of Crais is by Julie Dennis Brothers, and is re-posted from his website bio page.

Artdog Quote of the Week

This week’s quote is more specifically for the “writer side” of my life, though all of us could do to meditate upon it.

IMAGE CREDIT: I found this image on the “Quote it Artfully” Pinterest board of LMS Art, but haven’t found the actual source of this rendering. The quote itself is from Joyce Meyer, leader of the Joyce Meyer Ministries.

Arizona Aqueous Images

Especially since I couldn’t make the show in person, I was delighted to see gallery images from the Arizona Aqueous XXVIII Show posted online.  I enjoyed seeing the show “virtually,” and hope you do too!

Many thanks to the Tubac Center of the Arts, Tubac, AZ, and Karon Leigh!

Here it is: documented proof that 9-Part Herbal Fantasy made it to Arizona in good shape!

The Juror was the tasteful and talented Judy Morris.

IMAGE CREDITS: All images are courtesy of Karon Leigh, of the Tubac Center of the Arts.  Many thanks to them for allowing me to share!

Artdog Quote of the Week

Here’s a really smart thing to keep in mind as you set out upon your week’s artful work:

IMAGE CREDIT: Many thanks to the “Technology Rocks. Seriously.” Blog, for this visual expression of a great thought.

Arizona Aqueous XXVIII starts now!

I have been given the honor of being among 58 artists whose work is featured in the 28th Arizona Aqueous national juried exhibition.

My Nine-Part Herbal Fantasy is one of 71 works of art selected by artist and juror Judy Morris, of Beaverton, OR.


The Tubac Center of the Arts is an interesting institution.  It is a nonprofit art center, supported by members, and features a rotating series of exhibitions. the Arizona Aqueous XXVIII show runs from February 7 through March 9, 2014.

The show kicked off with an opening reception Feb. 7 that I regret I was unable to attend–I’m still in northern California, dealing with family business.

I’ve only been able to find limited information about the show on the Internet. The community of Tubac is in southern Arizona, south of Tucson, located on Interstate 19.  The Tubac Center of the Arts has been described as the center of the area’s arts community.  It features performing arts as well as visual art exhibitions.

The Arizona Aqueous XXVIII show may be viewed at the center Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Sundays from 12:00-4:30 p.m.  Admission is free.  If you are in the area, please stop by and see the show!

IMAGE CREDITS: The photo of Nine-Part Herbal Fantasy is by Jan S. Gephardt, the artist.  Please re-post only with a link back and attribution.  The logo for the Arizona Aqueous show is from the Southern Arizona News-Examiner.  Many thanks!

Artdog Quote of the Week

This is a motto we all should inscribe someplace where we’ll never forget it.

IMAGE CREDIT: Many thanks to the “Artsyville” Etsy Shop for this little gem!

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