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Malcolm Campbell has commented on (9) products.

Suicide Supper Club by Rhett Devane

Malcolm Campbell, March 1, 2014

Rhett DeVane ("Cathead Crazy") brings her trademark sparkling prose and deep insights into human nature to this story of the darkness and light in the lives of Abby, Loiscell, Sheila and "Choo-choo."

The lives of these kindred spirits play out in the Florida Panhandle between Chattahoochee, a small town with a main street dominated by a mental institution, and Tallahassee, the state capital, 44 miles away. Most of the festering family secrets, declining health, estrangement and physical abuse live and breathe in Chattahoochee for Abby, Loiscell, Sheila and Choo-choo. Tallahassee is for shopping, fine dining, cancer treatments and a prospective appointment with a hit man.

Suicide and humor seamlessly merge through DeVane's inventive plot, fully realized characters, knowledge of Southern life and customs, and sense of place. The light in "Suicide Supper Club" comes from the great love and esteem the four women have for each other and the ways they find for coping with the Florida heat and the crap. When it comes to Chattahoochee and Tallahassee and the people who live there, Rhett DeVane gets it right.
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Malcolm Campbell, January 1, 2013

A wonderful story about the power of women, the wisdom of nature, and the company of sheep--a true coming of age story.
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The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling
The Casual Vacancy

Malcolm Campbell, October 16, 2012

Winesburg, Spoon River, Grover's Corners and Peyton Place reside so powerfully in the consciousness of readers as accurately rendered representations of small town life that their people, town squares, relationships and secrets are forever in our memory almost crossing the boundary from fiction into reality. The English village of Pagford in J. K. Rowling's "The Casual Vacancy" belongs on this list.

City council member Barry Fairbrother dies at the beginning of the novel. While the novel's interwoven storylines unfold via Rowling's expertly handled omniscient narrative style, Fairbrother is a strongly present though physically absent protagonist. Who he was, the issues he championed, and how his suddenly empty seat (a "casual vacancy") on the council will be filled are the catalysts for the thoughts and actions of the thirty other characters. If the novel's middle class characters could step outside their fictional world, they might claim a girl of the projects named Krystal Weedon is the antagonist because she's everything they despise in a teenager. However, the true antagonists might alternatively be seen as those who want to put a stop to everything Barry Fairbrother lived for.

The Harry Potter books feature a mythic, larger-than-life battle between good and evil. "The Casual Vacancy" features the more diffuse interactions between the middle class and those who live in the projects. Fairbrother, who transformed himself from a child of the projects to a respected, mainstream society adult, carried with him a practical "can do" attitude about the prospects of those in Pagford's subsistence living neighborhood "The Fields," including drug users fighting their addiction at the village's Bellchapel clinic. In life, he was both a pillar of the middle class community and an advocate and friend of the poor.

His views, however, were not universally shared by Pagford's middle class from merchants to council members to students. Fairbrother's death and the subsequent election to fill his council vacancy, present many conflict points within Rowling's complex and highly detailed story. If the election goes one way, the town will spin off The Fields to a nearby larger town and close the clinic. If the election goes the other way, Fairbrother's work will continue.

Every character in this novel has a covert or an overt opinion about Fairbrother, The Fields, Bellchapel, Krystal Weedon, the election, the candidates, the family squabbles disseminated through gossip and everyone outside his or her middle class or poverty class environment. Rowling, who has known poverty and--through her teaching--the children of poverty, has created a novel with many bridges between the haves and the have nots. These bridges, both strong and failing, give Rowling a stable and realistic infrastructure for The Casual Vacancy's plot.

Rowling's superb portrait of an English small town is moving, thought provoking and often a darkly comic masterpiece of storytelling with three-dimensional characters, a carefully constructed plot and multiple escalating conflicts that move like a tsunami through the world of Pagford, the town that no reader will ever forget.
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(2 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Night Circus

Malcolm Campbell, January 1, 2012

A marvelous and inventive story about magic, storytelling and the illusory stability of reality.
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The Madam by Julianna Baggott
The Madam

Malcolm Campbell, January 11, 2010

Julianna Baggott's spartan, poetic prose weaves an off-kilter and dramatic story suggested by her own family's legends. In the acknowledgments, Baggott thanks her grandmother "who was raised with show people, nuns, hustlers and whores" for sharing the the facts of a very unusual life.

It's not for us to know how truth and fiction combine in this well-told tale with its careful, yet intricate plot seasoned--some will say--with Southern Gothic flavoring, and overflowing with blunt-edged emotions and a no-nonsense view of life's trials and toil. But the atmosphere from beginning to end is relentless and cruel and deeply wonderful because Baggott loved her protagonist, and the show people, nuns, hustlers and whores enough to show their world of lint and coal dust and sex as almost sacred.

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