Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What's Wrong with Liking a Novel Where the Laughs are Broad, The Emotions are Strong, and The Good Folks Win? Enjoying Edward Kelsey Moore's "The Supremes at Earl's All You Can Eat", and Looking Forward to His Talk, Reading on March 27,and Maybe a Little Cello Music.

I’d like to say that every book from every author we host is a winner, but we all know that this can’t be the case. For one thing, we often wind up booking the events before a bookseller can read them. It’s also true that folks have different taste; one reader’s winner might be another’s loser. And every so often, I get the strange suspicion that the publisher decided to tour a novel aggressively because they thought the reviews would be bad. Last year a high-profile novel got a really bad review in The New York Times, and just about a week later, we received not one, but two finished reading copies. I guess the idea was that handselling would save the book that was previously going to be made by critical acclaim.

But Edward Kelsey Moore's first novel is no handoff. Ever since we starting hearing about The Surpremes at Earl’s All You Can Eat, you could tell how sincerely each person we were in contact with felt about the book—the sales rep, the publicist, the agent. They absolutely loved it. And I've fully embraced that love, in a hallelujah sort of way.

It’s the story of three women in a small town outside Louisville, Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean. Friends since high school, they’ve always been there for each other, though they do have their differences—each attends a different Baptist Church in town, for example. Now in their late fifties, a rough year looks like it's coming, whether it be death, disease, or cheating. Like any juicy novel, there are a lot of secrets being withheld that have to come out. And yes, there’s going to have to be some comeuppance.

I thought to myself, “I’m not sure I’m the right reader for this book. I don’t read Fannie Flagg or Terry McMillan*, the two very different authors whom I thought of as I contemplated the novel. I’m not an older woman. I’m not Black. I don’t go to church. I don’t live in a small town.” (Yes, you now know all my secrets). But when I started reading The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, I couldn’t stop. The characters were so good, the set ups so funny, the heartbreak so poignant. I'm trying to think of the phrase that would make you feel like you're part of a story that you really haven't been before--culturally inclusive?

This is a commercial novel, if commercial means heavy on plot and emotion (and of course to be commercial, it also needs to be successful, and this just hit the New York Times bestseller list, so that box is checked off). And yes, it’s cinematic, as you can certainly visualize the movie as you’re reading the story, with Tyler Perry the likely player of Odette’s ghostly mother Dora. I did think, however, that the producers were likely to lop ten years off the ages of the Supremes. Not that they should; just that they probably would. (UK jacket at right)

And now, a note from Stacie M. Williams:

“When we host author events, we sometimes know the works being presented are fantastic but don’t always know if the author is someone who presents well. But, sometimes we get to meet an author and get a taste of what our audience will be in for when he or she comes to the store.

“Last October, I had the immense pleasure of meeting Edward Kelsey Moore at a bookseller conference in Minneapolis. Attending an author reception, we listened as each guest author stood up to tell us a little about their books. One of the two shining stars of the night was Edward. He percolated with energy, but without overflowing. He told us a heartwarming, yet laugh-out-loud hilarious story about his family, and was so warm and effusive with his getting to be a part of the evening alongside other, more well-known writers. In short, he charmed us all, especially me, into a swooning trance.

“I have no doubt that anyone who comes to hear him read and speak will be as bowled off their feet by his endearing and entrancing personality. Plus, we hear that he’s bringing his cello with him and we’ll be granted a little bit of beautiful music, too. It will be a real treat.”

Moore will be reading at Boswell on Wednesday, March 27, at 7 pm. Yes, I know that’s tomorrow. As Stacie noted, he is a professional cellist, and we have convinced him to bring his instrument up to Milwaukee for some music to go with the reading. When you read The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, you’ll notice a love of classical music that pervades the pages, especially in Clarice, a pianist who gave up a performing career to stay with her football-player-turned-scout husband, but also in an appreciation for classical music you don’t always find in a novel like this.

But that’s the thing about Moore and his writing. He upends some expectations about what a novel like this would be. Like the fact that Odette can see ghosts, just like her mom. It’s not a secret; you learn about it in the first chapter. But there’s clearly no mention of it on any of the jacket copy; someone must have thought that a paranormal twist would simply throw off the likely reader. But while I think this book could have a wide audience, I’m also thrilled to find a book that will appeal to a lot of African Americans who want a good read, but are looking for more than a romance or an urban playa novel.

Sometimes customers will tell me what they like and be a little embarrassed, like I’m going to judge them. I don’t know where this comes from. I’m not against commercial success and I’m certainly not against escapism. I like emotion as much as the next person. If sometimes I obsess over structure and language and don’t worry about novels that don’t really have plots, it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a good roller coaster ride of a thriller. I just want the author who writes that crowd pleaser to do a good job. I can’t abide sloppiness, and I hate when I feel like the author thinks I’m too stupid to know that he or she is coasting.  Edward Kelsey Moore is not sloppy and he's definitely not coasting. He's soaring! (Over the top ending is chosen to match the novel's drama).

*I actually am the kind of person who might read Terry McMillan, and was actually a fan of Mama, one of her early novels. But once she became popular, I felt like she didn’t need me anymore and moved onto other, more obscure authors.

Postscript--The jacket above left was the one I originally saw on the galley. The interesting thing about type jackets is that they leave the market more open. I tend to like them because they open up a book to different readers. But it's clear that other booksellers like a jacket like the finished product, which more clearly defines who the reader is supposed to be. I'll probably get back to this in another post.  

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