Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Debra White Smith Review: Central Park

Now that I have no Marble Hornets things to obsess talk about, I think I'll move on to my large amount of blog posts I have written for just such an emergency as this.

So, onto Central Park, yet another in Debra White Smith's Austen series.

Oh, this book. This was the book that actually got me started on the series. Mansfield Park is possibly my favorite, so finding a good, refreshing update where Fanny isn’t turned into some wild unrecognizable creature is nice.

Francine Ponce comes to Central Park to live with her wealthy Uncle Tom and his family, including the sour Aunt Nora. Exceedingly shy, she finally becomes comfortable in her new home, only to find she is falling in love with Tom’s foster son, Ethan.

It’s very much like the original, with a few exceptions. In Mansfield Park, it’s clear to the reader that Fanny is in love with Edmund long before she herself figures it out. In Central Park Franny states outright in a bit of monologue how much she loves Ethan and how she hopes to marry him some day.

Apart from that, this update was surprisingly accurate. Uncle Tom is quite gruff, Aunt Mariette is quite lazy, and Aunt Nora is quite unpleasant (though still a cake walk compared to Mrs. Norris of the original!). Marie and Julie are actually quite accurate as well, with Julie showing clear signs of being a follower. The “Caspers”, too, are well done. Like the original, one feels quite sympathetic toward Carrie. Even though in this book Ethan is the only son and therefore heir, it is still quite clear Carrie is in love with him for his own sake. The Henry expy isn’t so well done. Even though he is sometimes funny he is so clearly sketchy that even his claim to be in love with Franny seems rather like he has convinced himself he’s in love with her, as opposed to actually loving her. (In the book the Omniscient Narrator states Henry really was in love with Fanny.) He’s still an integral part of the story, but you don’t feel quite that sympathy that has caused Mansfield Park shipping wars across the Internet.

Even the minor characters are well done. The Yates character (or Yancey Bates) was actually extremely funny. Smith is good at writing humorous dialogue between characters, and it is no more evident than here. Another success is showing Franny’s immediate family and their house. I have been in places very like Franny’s old home-cluttered, dirty, an air of neglect throughout, even in the people. You can tell the kids are making the best of it but you can also tell that it is not a good place to grow up.

And in this, of all books, Smith makes it clearer than ever that physical attraction is an integral part of the characters’ interactions. As the book progresses Ethan, despite dating the gorgeous Carrie, finds himself oddly attracted to his “cousin”, something he finds unnatural. At one point, his monologue mentions dreams “that promised heaven in Francine’s arms.” Wow. Make the old ladies gasp, why don’tcha? But kudos to Smith for this. It seems like a lot of Christian authors are so afraid of mentioning what is painfully obvious to people actually in relationships. (And that sounded much meaner than intended. But I shan’t take it back.)

Now, there is a down side to this one as well, believe it or not after all that gushing. At times Smith’s writing seems to get ADD, and I’ve noticed this a bit in her other books as well. For one, when a character is deep in thought, Smith feels the need to mention every little thing the character sees as he or she looks around. It takes away from the tension of the moment. The other problem is that her characters seem to see one thing and have it remind them of something entirely different, but plot relevant. Carrie Casper seems especially bad about this, though in some cases the reminders seem mainly to emphasize her egotistical shallowness.

Apart from that, this novel is amazing. This is the one to start with because it is definitely the one that translates best.

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