Sheila E Bell, $0.99
Contemporary Fiction, 2011
I don’t like to do reviews of books like Sheila E Bell’s Always, Now, and Forever… Love Hurts, because it’s one of those books that were written because the author wants to share an inspirational message of love and hope. I honestly can’t argue against the motivation, hence it hurts me considerably to write a poor review of such a book. It’s like telling Grandma that her cooking is awful—say anything mean about that sweet, selfless, and caring old darling is like a crime against nature itself. Unfortunately, sugarcoating things is against everything this website exists for, so this is one of those cases when I wish, maybe for a second or two, that I’m more of a shill kind of person.
This is a woman’s fiction. Yes, there’s romance, but the focus of the story is actually on the life of our heroine, Clarye Dawson. She contracted polio when she was very young, and her resulting disability sees her being subjected to all kinds of insults and bullying. I’m sure you all know the story arc. They say she can’t do it, she should think small and settle, but Clarye eventually overcomes the odds and becomes a wealthy and successful novelist. Love eludes her, although heartbreak sadly doesn’t, until she eventually meets businessman Gavin. He’s hot and, naturally, wealthy, because you can’t have one without the other in order to be worthy of a good woman’s love, and let’s be honest here, having a lot of money helps when one is living with a disability. Words of support and encouragement are sweet and all, but they won’t buy anyone those fancy meds and sophisticated devices, alright?
The problem with Always, Now, and Forever… Love Hurts is that it is badly in need of someone to edit and polish the draft into something resembling a story that people pay for. The narrative structure is best described as a low tier kind of amateurish. Everything is told rather than presented in a balanced show and tell manner, and this is a problem because Ms Bell doesn’t vary her sentence structure in a manner that makes the story interesting. Instead, the narrative feels repetitive and boring.
For example, let’s take this paragraph:
“Clarye,” Rolonda screamed. “We were able to get the keys from Gavin. But then he just took off running.” Lawrence, Rolonda’s husband, had a brother who was a lieutenant on the Memphis police force. She called him to get his help. He went out searching for Gavin too. Eric was left behind at Gavin’s mother’s house. Rolonda said, between sobs, that she would take Eric back to the house.”
Instead of having the whole thing being narrated this way, I feel that the scene could have been more interesting if the author had these events take place in real time, so to speak. Have Rolonda and Lawrence actually get the keys from Gavin. Have Gavin run. Let me know of these characters’ confusion by Gavin’s action, then have them stumble upon Eric. Show me how Eric is taking the situation, and so on. Having Rolonda and the author break down the whole thing in the space of a paragraph is anticlimactic and makes the sequence of events feel so mundane.
Basic storytelling structure seems to have broken down completely. There is no variation in tempo or momentum, no sense of build-up or direction, nothing. Every event, urgent or mundane, is treated like it’s just another page in Clarye’s journal. It also doesn’t help that conversations among the characters here resemble lines from preachy tracts instead of anything anyone in real life will say in a normal, conversant manner. Instead, these conversations are just exposition dumps inserted between inverted commas.
“Kenya, I am going to confront your mother, whether you like it or not. And if necessary, I’m going to your school as well to get to the bottom of this situation,” he said with firmness in his voice that made even Clarye know that she shouldn’t interfere.
Kenya pleaded with him not to and quickly added, “My mother has already been to the school and they’re adamant about me having the money. There’s no need for you to go again, Daddy. There’s no need for you to talk to Momma either. She’s just going to tell you the same thing I’m telling you.”
Really, who talks like this in real life?
“Pain intentionally robs a person of happiness, whatever happiness is,” Clarye said to her best friend Ada, with a tinge of sadness embedded in her chestnut brown eyes.
“I wish you wouldn’t talk like that, Clarye. We all have experienced some kind of pain in our lives. It’s part of living, and there’s no way around it.”
“I know that, but it’s different for me. I’ve become accustomed to pain as being a part of my life. You know what I mean, even if you may not totally understand where I’m coming from.”
Oh, and the author also loves to insert some luridly melodramatic turn of phrases here and there. I personally enjoy them for the unintentional humor they bring to the otherwise painfully botched execution of the story, but I suspect that some readers may end up cringing for their dear lives instead.
At the tender and helpless age of eighteen months, when most toddlers were probably getting on Momma’s last nerves, Clarye’s heart was literally sliced open like a watermelon being cut on a steamy, hot day.
As much as I love the ghastly image evoked by that sentence, oh come on, heart surgery is nowhere as gruesome as that.
Sadly, even if I take away the author’s earnest attempts at channeling her message of hope and inspiration, the story itself is on the dull and uninteresting side. The whole thing is a typical, even generic woman’s fiction affair, and Clarye is often too passive and dour to be an interesting lead character. In a way that the author will not likely appreciate, the melodramatic turn of phrases ends up elevating the story somewhat from “hot boring mess” to “hot, boring, but sometimes unintentionally hilarious mess”.
It’s hard to overlook how this story is desperately in need of all kinds of editors to whip some discipline and structure into it, however. From a technical viewpoint, this story just won’t do at all, even if the story were interesting—and sadly, it isn’t. I suppose it is a good thing that this one is only $0.99, but still, I’m sure there are much better titles available out there for the same price.