As someone who is taking the non-traditional route to publishing a novel, I feel a sense of obligation to review similarly published books. Here’s my first review of one such book.
If you were to read a newspaper report about a local domestic assault or rape, you might find just the name of the perp and possibly that of the victim’s, and little background of either. The crime has been committed but the reader is left to ponder how things got to this point. The novel “Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors” provides the buildup to such reports. If you’ve ever wondered how people get to the point known as ‘the heat of passion’, you might find Benjamin Wretlind’s telling of Maggie’s story both illuminating and perplexing, as I did. Maggie is someone who emphasizes that she is not stupid, but consistently contradicts this claim over the most pivotal decade of one’s life. Early on, while a mere ten-years old, she drifts between the sagely advice of her grandmother and the physical abuse of her mother, both of whom impress upon Maggie just how evil men are. However, Maggie’s choice is to become as close to a boy as much as she can. Over the next ten years, she is as drawn to men as much as Adam was to Eve sans serpent. She finds herself – if not allowing herself – to be placed in situations that will only lead to pain and suffering. Ultimately, she appears willing to follow the same path traveled by her mother – alcohol, shallow intimacy with men, followed by violent crescendos. Incidentally, the story provides enough scenes of criminality to fill a local newspaper.
The setting is aptly described with the showing of trailer park living and dusty desert monsoons. Character development is left to the view of Maggie who sees goodness only in her grandmother and not much at all in anyone else. Some boys and men appear attractive in her eyes, but they are all viewed as two-faced, or in Maggie’s case, two-tongued, which is a preoccupation that provides her with uncertainty rather than trust. Interestingly enough, for Maggie, a man’s tongue provides both metaphor and titillation. It can be used to remind her of the black eels that help clean up her messes while it can also be used to provide sexual pleasure. It’s no wonder her life is filled with confusion and at a loss for direction. Important life decisions – a good education, followed by a good job, followed by a stable loving relationship – are completely out of the question. What matters most is a castle in the sky. Hence, Maggie’s task is to find the bricks needed to build that castle. The point of clarity in which she finally understands this goal comes just at a point in her life when her grandmother is long since passed on and her mother has fallen victim to a violent crime. It’s Maggie’s turn to continue the chain of violence, disillusionment, and disconnection from the outside world.
I really wanted to empathize with Maggie and to like this well-written story, but the main character shows very little in the way of a redemptive quality to help sum up her life by the end of the story and, instead, transforms into someone similar to those men who have wronged her over the years. The only time she seems like a normal, level-headed person is when she takes an interest in learning about anatomy. But even then, the motivation is hardly based on creating an industrious future for herself. If this is the background of such people read about in newspapers, I’m perfectly willing to skim the headlines. I’d probably only skim over a headline of a successful Maggie – perhaps a graduate of forensic science – without reading the article, but with a mild sense of ‘Atta girl!’. Makes for a more fulfilling story.