Book review: The Sensualists, The Shadow of Desire, The Dive From Clausen’s Pier

It’s winter, a traditionally slow time for me, as a dog groomer.  Nothing on daytime TV, so I am reading a lot.  I generally tend to stick to nonfiction, as there is so much I do not know.  Since I come across a lot of books, I have been reading more fiction.  More and more, if a book doesn’t grab me in the first few pages, I’ll discard it and start another.  I had mixed feelings about all  3 of these.

I  picked them up because they all have female characters I wanted to see if I could relate to.

The Dive From Clausen’s Pier , by Ann Packer,became  an immediate best seller when it was published in 2002.  Told in the first person, it is about  a young woman, Carrie Bell, who has been engaged to be married to her high school sweetheart, but now they are out of college, and she has matured.  She is beginning to feel that the relationship has run its course, and  is thinking about breaking up with Mike when the horrible accident occurs.  There are other complications—the most notable, to me , is that she has not been confiding in her friends.  It’s the same high school crowd.  She just kept living, maturing, and becoming unsettled.  There are a few contrivances in the story line, but  so what—it’s a story.  I found the book compelling, exquisitely written.   Packer has  deftly drawn her characters, done her research, and created a great conflict.  I would recommend it to anyone who wanted a good read.  The point of the story is that you don’t really know what you  would do if someone close to you has a life altering crisis.  Packer  captures this truthfully.  My ambivalence?  Carrie, at a certain point, had a choice to make about her own economic and creative development, and  discards the notion to go back to  her ‘crowd’.  But that is a quibble.  Packer  really develops the story and her  characters.

The Shadow of Desire by Rebecca Stowe, I found less compelling, yet I kept reading because it was so believable.  Writing teacher Ginger makes the annual  Christmas trip back to Michigan to be with parents and a brother she has a strained relationship with.  Seems she has nothing in common with these people, but she wants to  love them because  they are really all she has.  Her mother is an alcoholic, and it is clear her brother has mental issues for understandable reasons.  Her father  appears to be the most patient, loving soul, to the point of  cluelessness.   The book takes place over about a 2 week period, more or less.  I had a hard time relating to Ginger, an adjunct or lecturer  at a college with  some minor publishing success.   However, I related to her strained relationship with her mother.    My mother and I had a similar relationship.  My mother was not an alcoholic, but she  had a prescription drug dependency that I am sure affected  all her relationships.

The Sensualists, was written by Ben Hecht, the screen writer most well known for the movie, The Front Page.  I looked him up on Wikipedia,  and learned he wrote the screenplays for  Some Like it Hot,Gone With the Wind, and Casino Royale—among so many other classic movies.  This was the reason I decided to  read this book, published in 1959.   He’s screenwritten  some of my favorite movies!  It is sort of a murder ‘mystery’, and there is a lot of dialogue, but it is filled with cliches  and babble.  I guess  it might have been a bit shocking in 1959, but now, it seems trite.

Hecht imagines what might have been a plausible scenario in the  1950s, but  is no longer the case.  His lead character, Ann Lawrence, shockingly discovers her husband of  8 years has been cheating on her with a ‘torch singer’ whose estranged-sort-of husband winds up murdered.  Hecht did not know women.  He was also a brazen sexist, imagining a male fantasy without turning it into pornography.    His characters are very  cliche’d.   The dialogue is contrived and tedious.  The ending is  lame.  That’s the best adjective I can use to describe it.  Possibly the title is  an irony.  All the characters are self-indulgent, and actually characters of themselves.  I had trouble relating to them.

What hooks most people  about a story is either relating to the characters or  finding  how the story unfolds compelling.  The Dive at Claussen’s Pier and The Shadow of Desire are both still in print, and I imagine  you can also get The Sensualists on  But let me make a plug for your neighborhood book sellers, including the ones who sell used books.  A Kindle may seem nifty, but it is hard to page through a Kindle.  There is nothing  so enriching as discovering a good book.



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