Friday, June 16, 2023

Gin Phillips' Family Law

I've been reading Gin Phillips' books since  The Well and the Mine, her debut novel. I'm fascinated that the Alabama author writes such a range of fiction. Come in and Cover Me is centered primarily around an archeological dig, with the protagonist collecting remnants of pottery of a particular indigenous woman. That novel incorporated elements of magical realism and Springsteen lyrics. Phillips' novel Fierce Kingdom places the protagonist and her son at a zoo (I'm assuming the one in Birmingham) with an active shooter on the loose.

Her latest novel Family Law is set in Alabama in the 70s. The primary protagonist Lucia is a successful family lawyer, a role that often puts her in the crosshairs of angry spouses. 

Rachel, a girl whose mother comes to the law office to discuss the possibility of a divorce, finds Lucia's home and the two develop a friendship, putting both of them, as well as Lucia's husband, in danger. 

Once Rachel is introduced, Phillips alternates between her point of view and Lucia's. Rachel's navigation of high school dynamics and life with her distracted mother show a mature but believable self-awareness.

Phillips develops interesting characters and addresses challenges to a woman who chooses a career path unusual for females at the time in history, but she doesn't make her characters into stereotypes. The nuances in her marriage are well-drawn. Even Lucia's dog has a significant role. 

This book will appeal to readers of Joshilyn Jackson, who also reads the audiobook of Family Law, a bonus, in my opinion.

I will confess that I was particularly intrigued when one of Rachel's school friends shared a name with one of my former students, a young woman who just happens to be a friend of Gin Phillips. Coincidence? I think not.



Thursday, June 15, 2023

Fear Not! I'm Still Reading

 First, let me allay any fears that I have abandoned reading. Not so. I am ashamed that I have fallen so far behind on posting about my reading exploits though. I'm at that stage in my dissertation process that when I write, it's often academic. The end is in sight, though.

I may not be sharing what I am reading, but I never stop reading. I admit I have relied on audiobooks more, taking advantage of time in the car, at the gym, working around the house to listen. My latest such experience gave me a chance to hear audiobook reader extraordinaire Tom Hanks.

I had already enjoyed his reading his collection of short fiction Uncommon Types, as well as Ann Patchett's The Dutch House. While he has other actors reading parts for this newest book, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece, including his wife Rita Wilson, he does most of the reading, and he does it well.

We've all heard the old advice, "Write what you know." Hanks certainly followed that rule, pulling together disparate threads to weave the story of Knightshade: The Lathe of Firewall, the movie adaptation of a comic book, looking back at the late 40s childhood of the graphic artist and the uncle for whom he was named but who made himself scarce after returning from the way. In present time, readers meet Bill Johnson, the producer/director of the film, and a delightful cast of characters--literally. 

Some of the best characters in the story are women, particularly Alicia (Al) McTeer, Johnson's assistant director, whom he discovered working at a Garden Suites, and Ynes Gonzales-Cruz, a rideshare driver, who lands a job with the production. Both have found success by being good problem solvers in what might have seemed dead end jobs. Equally well-drawn are the lead actors in the film as well as such minor characters as the makeup artists, spouses, and bit actors.

While Hanks' strength is his character development, he also has a filmmaker's eye for sensory details. Lone Butte, the North California town where the movie is filmed, becomes so real, I think I could find Clark's Drug Store. He also has a knack for building suspense, but sometimes letting his characters elude disaster without use of deus ex machina. 

Most refreshing is the way characters genuinely care for one another. Yes, there are antagonists, but most often, those in power take the high road or give opportunities to people they might have overlooked, This may not be an accounting of "the making of every major motion picture," but I like to think the process could be more like the one in the story.