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Monday, January 11, 2010

Norm Goldman Reviews Award-Winning Literary Novel

Houses: a novel
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Women's
Publisher: Leigh Walker Books
ISBN: 978-0-32893-5

Reviewed by Norm Goldman for and Amazon
Rated 5 stars on Amazon

You may never have heard of Cynthia Rogers Parks, author of Houses winner of the 2008 Good Read novel competition sponsored by A Woman's Write, but you will wonder why, when you've read this novel.

Parks did an incredible job delivering to her readers a cozy and humane narrative through the voice of her principal character, Lacey Winters. Unveiling a half century of her life from the 1950s onwards, Lacey spins quite an absorbing yarn, and despite being a work of fiction, we actually feel she is "real," particularly if you grew up around the same time and experienced some of the rough challenges that she endured.

One of the triumphs of this novel is the manner in which Parks depicts time and place, as she cleverly intertwines the many events that have preoccupied the media over the past fifty years--assassinations, riots, scandals, civil rights protests, women rights movements, and a host of other events that, as the back cover of the book most aptly sums up, " the turbulent 60s through the psychedelic 70s, the materialistic 80s and the booms and busts of the end of the last century." And she has marvelously accomplished this feat,while avoiding the trap of overwhelming us with a great deal of back story and grounding narration. Yet, Houses still manages to reveal more about a half a century and the ways in which people inhabited it than the flood of tomes devoted to it.

As I read this novel, I couldn't help asking myself, how do you take an inventory of your life? How do you measure your life? What do you use as your signposts? What do you include and what do you leave out? How do you want to be remembered? And then there is the "what if?" Life often doesn't turn out as we expected and in fact, as is the case with Lacey, sometimes it seems to take another direction entirely. Remember the Yiddish proverb, "Man plans, God laughs."

As for Lacey, she sketches her life as a collection of phases or milestones that she identifies with the assorted houses she has lived in from the time she was a tot living at her grandmother's home with her sister and father, after the fatal accident of her mother, until her last one, when she marries for the third time. Each corresponds to a segment of her life portraying a different theme or issue that runs the gamut from teenage pregnancy and marriage, miscarriage, spousal war-time death, poverty, parental and sibling estrangements, suburbia, domesticity and independence, infidelity, divorce, depression, mid-life crisis, empty nest syndrome, unemployment, to being widowed for the second time. As Lacey sums up: "You think, don't you, that you impose yourself, stamp your own individualism, on the places you choose to live in. In fact, it works the other way around. Sometimes houses have their own ideas."

Parks is a extraordinary writer who has a talent for picking out tiny, telling details that make an entire scene or event come alive. In addition, her fine ear for dialogue effortlessly infuses mild, wry humor throughout the novel.

Cynthia Rogers Parks holds an M.A. And Ph.D in English from Georgia State University where, according to her bio, she was one of the earliest entrants in their graduate Creative Writing Program. Subsequently she taught English, business writing, and ESL classes for fourteen years. Her short stories have been published in numerous university and regional literary publications and she is a former Redbook Fiction finalist.

Norm Goldman, Publisher & Editor Bookpleasures
Cynthia Rogers Parks
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