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The Smart One: A Blogstop Book Tour Book Review August 8, 2008

Posted by emsgeiss in writing/editing/blogging.
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Relationships. At its core, that is what Ellen Meister’s The Smart One is about. Through non-stop action and descriptive language that not only puts you in the scenes physically, but emotionally, Meister unravels a spellbinding story with wit and panache. Starting in media res, living through protagonist Bev’s interview for a position that could take her out of life-long home of New York for a fresh start—away from the disappointments and distractions created from a lifetime of trying to live up to the labels and expectations of her parents, her sisters—and even herself. Bev, the middle child, was labeled as “the smart one,” nestled between Claire—”the pretty one” with the “perfect” life: wife, mother, Soccer Mom extraordinaire, and Joey—”the wild child”—a recovering addict and former one-hit-wonder rock star. All three sisters love each other tremendously, but cannot seem to escape the bounds of the labels created for them or the sibling rivalry.

A strange twist of fate that has Bev house sitting her childhood neighbors’ home while she awaits news about her new job also reconnects her with old neighborhood friend Kenny Waxman (and son of the same neighbors). Kenny and Bev have a history themselves, one which in itself is complicated, especially as Kenny struggles with his own family-expectations issues and adds yet another dimension to the connection between past, present and future.  Bev returning to her childhood home on Long Island serves to upset that strange balance of family (and neighborhood) dysfunction that many of us know all too well.  Kenny and Bev, back home for the same mission (to help sell Kenny’s parent’s home) leads to an accidental journey of discovery to unravel the mysteries hidden in an industrial drum found in the Waxman’s crawl space — mysteries that serve to disrupt the appearances that suburban life tries to maintain as a decaying pregnant corpse is revealed as the drum’s contents. Bev, her sisters and Kenny end up unraveling the secrets and mysteries of the quad’s own former lives, those of their families and sheds light on where each may be  heading as individuals.

Meister’s characters are strangely real — as if you’ve met them before, and the storyline moves well, urging you to turn the next page for more. The Smart One is a perfect read for the end of the summer, and one that’s certain to become among those that you pick up and read again … and again … and again.

The Smart One is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Booksense and Borders. To learn more about Ellen Meister and her previous work Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, visit her Web site at www.EllenMeitser.com. The Smart One is published by Avon an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The Smart One
by Ellen Meister
NewYork: Avon/HarperCollins, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-06-112963-9

This book review is part of the BlogStop Book Tours book review series for The Smart One . Visit BlogStop Book Tours to learn more.

Future stops on The Smart One book tour are:

To read the reviews at the previous stops on The Smart One book tour, visit:


Book review: Apologies Forthcoming by Xujun Eberlein June 25, 2008

Posted by emsgeiss in Book Reviews, writing/editing/blogging.
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A Blog Stop Book Tour Book Review by Erika-Marie S. Geiss

The stories in Xujun Eberlein’s Apologies Forthcoming (Livingston Press, 2008 ) are a remarkable display of historical fiction where lyrical and vivid imagery  punctuate the socio-political climate of post-Cultural Revolution China. Eberlein’s descriptions of art, music, poetry, love and the beauty of the landscape are prominent metaphors for the emotions that her characters feel and the struggles they face as they emerge from the aftermath of Mao’s last decade in power.

In Pivot Point, where the protagonist, a woman of the “aging youth,” sent to the country side to be educated during the Revolution, finds that at almost 30 — the age of standing — she is “too high to reach,” and unmarriagable. While she achieves great stature professionally, belief in the Party is not enough. She wants something more and contends to endure a relationship with a married man, until she reaches her own tragic pivot point. One line in particular from Pivot Point describes the underlying theme of the entire collection of stories aptly:

“It is not without reason that the Chinese
character for ‘endure’ is a knife atop a heart.”

Eberlein’s ability to shape the Chinese character for endurance where filial, platonic, familial and romantic love are placed secondary to and under the weight of a stark, cold instrument of power and might resonates. Her protagonists struggle with the desires that seem to be in binary opposition to their duties, and each one faces a challenge of reconciling this complicated state, some triumphantly, others tragically. Eberlein’s cultural understanding is intimate, having grown up in Chongqing, China during the period. With the distance of time and geography, after moving to the United States in 1988, her descriptions of the turbulent period and the haunting memories of now middle-aged people, who as youth zealously killed in the warring factions on the Red Guard are unbiased.

Without casting an opinion on the Maoist Cultural Revolution, Eberlein places her characters in this time of social upheaval in a frank and matter-of-a-fact way and the historical facts are presented as events that shape her characters as directly as wind and rain shape the landscape and are as indelible. In Snow Line, Shiao Su abandons his poetry — a representation for his true self, for the “stability” of what is expected of him. And in Second Encounter, set in Massachusetts nearly forty years removed from the Cultural Revolution, a Sichuan man learns that events that unfolded while fighting in the Red Guard had a greater purpose that he could never have foreseen.

The collection of stories in Apologies Forthcoming are pure, real and speak to universal truths about the human condition that transcend geography or time. Eberlein’s eight stories are poignant and so well-written that they beg to be read aloud.

About the Author
Xujun Eberlein grew up in
Chongqing, China and moved to the States in 1988 and in 1995 earned her Ph.D. from MIT, winning an award for her dissertation.  Eberlein joined a small but ambitious high tech company, where she worked until 2003, when she gave up tech for writing. Since then she has won several literary awards and her stories and personal essays have been published world-wide. Apologies Forthcoming is Eberlein’s debut collection of stories and in 2007 won the prestigious Tartt Fiction Award.

To learn more about Xujun Eberlein, visit her Web site or her cultural and literary blog Inside-out-China.

Apologies Forthcoming is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Booksense and Powell’s.

This review is part of the June 2008 Blog Stop Book Tours series:

The next blog-venues on the Blog Stop Book tour for Apologies Forthcoming by Xujun Eberlein are:

Previous Blog Stop Book Tour venues for Apologies Forthcoming can be viewed at the following locations: