Sunday, March 11, 2012

Building It All From Scraps by Beverly Ann Kessler

Publisher:         Xlibris

One of the unfortunate aspects of independent publishing is that it allows for self indulgence by the author.  Anyone who thinks he or she can tell a story is able to put anything on paper and sell it as a book.  The unwary reader is then subjected to passages that make no sense, scenes that obstruct a plot rather than add to it, and a plot that rambles around with no purpose.  It creates an unpleasant reading experience.

There is no blurb on the cover of Building It All From Scraps, so it isn't clear what the author was trying to do with the book.  Jordan Mathews is a typical child of the baby boom.  Her blue collar parents have high hopes for her when she goes off to college and Jordan has high goals for herself.  She wants to do something with her life that will help other people and she sees social work as the way to accomplish that.  The book then covers her life – her friends, her family, her clients, plus the social and political events of the time.  Jordan discovers her sexuality and deals with the ramifications of that for someone living in the 1960s and 1970s.

The tragedy of this book is that, at its heart, is a decent story.  Kessler does a good job of portraying the torn lives of those gay people who lived in the 1970s and were trying to negotiate existence in a country that was much more homophobic than today.  She captures the real fear that Jordan experiences at the idea that she probably will be rejected by her family and her friends if she reveals her sexual orientation and the damage that could be done to a career that she wants very much.  That meaningful story gets lost in a sea of unimportant, distracting information.  The book could have been salvaged by a competent editor who would have cut more than 200 pages from content.  An editor would have caught the spelling and grammar mistakes also.

It isn't clear if Kessler was trying to tell a fiction story, a semiautobiographical story or write a textbook about social work.  She uses some startling techniques.  In Chapter 3 Jordan is writing a college paper about social work and the reader is subjected to reading pages and pages about the profession.  In Chapter 7 she attends a training session and the person presenting the information goes on forever and in great detail about cases of children who were burned by their parents or guardians.  Fortunately, the reader can skip over those sections.  The book has an appearance of a textbook with numerous notes at the end of each page and almost a hundred pages of additional notes at the end.  This helps to create the impression that Kessler thought she was writing a semi-textbook.

Unfortunately, the book lacks focus and believability.  Incidents that don't appear to be important or that are hardly mentioned suddenly become pivot points in the plot.  One moment Jordan is missing an important event or comment and the next she is blowing some insignificant issue out of proportion.  Kessler never develops the ability to show what is happening in the story instead of telling everything.  The end of the book is totally confusing.  Characters suddenly reverse personality and the concluding incident makes no sense at all.  This is when the reader will feel like Kessler is talking about events in her own life, as if her persecuted character is herself and she is determined to tell the story the way she wants it to be known.  Kessler seems to be trying to exorcise demons from her own life instead of that of her character.  She quite obviously had some feelings about the social work profession that she needed to get out of her system.

I was sent this book to review, so I was determined to finish it.  That wasn't easy to do when I knew by page 50 that it was a disaster.  I can't encourage anyone else to make the struggle.