25 August 2012

Catholics, Indians, Jews, Oh My

I like Sandra Shwayder Sanchez. When my husband and I visited her near Boulder, Colorado, she and her husband showed us a great deal of hospitality. She's a warm and intelligent woman, a Family Court attorney, who champions a couple of liberal causes we feel more or less compatible with.

But none of this means that she can write. Actually, since Michael and I did publish a couple of her stories in Cantaraville I have to say that she has some talent, though it mostly lies in the field of short fiction. It's her novels that bother me. Leaden and tedious, with paragraphs like blocks of granite, they seem to exist for any reason other than to give a reader pleasure. Her latest novel, The Secret of the Journey (Floricanto Press, 2012), is a dull and confusing book. It starts out with a lugubrious account of religious persecution in 16th century Europe, then proceeds to alternate chapters with the interactions of a modern-day woman—a Jewish public defender, evidently the author's alter ego—who gradually uncovers the familial and societal links with her own past, her fiance's family history, and the history of Marrano Jews (Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism) in the Old and New Worlds.

The historical chapters seem to exist primarily to show off the author's research, while the modern-day chapters seem to be there to display her own attitudes. The 16th-century scenes are written in that mildly irritating plain narrative style of historical romances, while in the modern ones there doesn't seem to be a single organic conversation. Everyone is either imparting factoids or espousing a particular point of view. And there are looong paragraphs that describe even minor characters' back stories. Not to mention, no one in the historical chapters ends well—they're either captured by the Inquisition and tortured, sent into slavery, or die in a damp cave giving birth to a stillborn. At least the modern story of the author's alter ego ends with her wedding.

Verdict: This novel should never have been published. It needs structural help first and foremost and style editing second. It needs for its author to rethink what story she wanted to tell in the first place.

~ Cantara Christopher


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