๐ƒ๐จ๐ง’๐ญ ๐๐ž๐ฅ๐ข๐ž๐ฏ๐ž ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐‡๐ฒ๐ฉ๐ž ๐š๐›๐จ๐ฎ๐ญ “๐…๐š๐ฅ๐ฅ๐ข๐ง๐ ”

I was eager to read the airplane thriller Falling because I’d been watching terrific movies set in the air: Red Eye, Executive Decision, Air Force One, Flight Plan, and Non-Stop.ย  I also re-read Chris Bohjalian’s dazzling, beautifully written thriller The Flight Attendant.ย 

So I wanted to love Falling, but the book falls flat again and again despite the insane hoopla it’s been generating.ย 

As the crime fiction reviewer for the Detroit Free Press, I often saw my fellow reviewers across the country rave about books that were badly.ย  Sometimes they even admitted as much, or came close to it, but shrugged off indifferent or even dreadful prose because they liked the plot.ย  Their cascading kudos, plus blurbs from best-selling authors and good packaging, could easily make a bad book successful.

That seems to have happened with T.J. Newman’s debut thriller about a pilot being given the choice by a terrorist to crash his plane or have his family killed.ย  The book has a beautiful cover but goes wrong in the very first chapter when the author grossly cheats her readers: the nightmarish flight she describes is only a nightmare.ย  That’s an amateurish mistake a conscientious editor should have warned her to avoid.

The frantic shifts in the opening chapter from one character to another are just as wrong-headed, and even worse, there are lines that need to be re-read because they don’t immediately make sense.ย  Despite a slew of blurbs from writers like Stephen King, Ian Rankin, and Diana Gabaldon, this book is marred by writing that’s either weak, confused, ungrammatical, or trying too hard.ย  Here are some examples:

Jo immediately understood why Big Daddy had failed to put a finger on the man’s essence.ย  He had an intangible mysteriousness, a mercurial quality of shadow.

A hollow dread seeped out of his heart.
ย 

Carrie stared at the floor.ย  The kettle began to screech and she shut off the burner.ย  The noise gradually softened until it was only the clock making noise again.

Daddy covered his mouth, a glint of Eureka! gleaming in his eyes.
ย 
A cold and hollow ache pooled at the base of his spine.
ย 
Stepping off the jet bridge stairs onto the tarmac, Bill squinted under his hand’s attempt to shield the sun.
ย 

Turning it clockwise, yellow digital numbers descended toward the new frequency.

Lying at Bill’s feet, broken and bloodied, her jaw hung open but no words came.

The author also doesn’t seem to know what “residue”ย  means or the difference between “definite” and “definitive”–among other problems with diction.

The story’s momentum is damaged by sometimes pointless flashbacks, one of which is three pages long.ย  Aspects of the plot don’t always make sense either, and that’s even more problematic.ย  Would a mother with young children let in a repairman who shows up unexpectedly without an ID–and then offer him tea?ย  And it’s unbelievable that her husband sees this man at home but a few hours later doesn’t recognize him on a video call.ย 

Perhaps the strangest element is the author’s relentless attempt to humanize the terrorists, whose reason for choosing this particular pilot is never really clear.ย  Almost as screwed up: the baseball players at targeted Yankee Stadium decide to keep playing even when they’ve been warned to evacuate because the plane is headed their way.ย 

Ten years as a flight attendant have given the author deep knowledge about planes and on-board protocols, but she overdoes the details at times, adding to the book’s overall weakness. It’s not entirely her fault, of course. Knowing that Falling book had been rejected by 41 agents, her publisher should have given the book the editing it badly needed.ย  They didn’t, which is either careless, cynical, or both.ย 

Lev Raphael is the prize-winning author of 27 books in genres from memoir to mystery and has been a newspaper, online, and radio book reviewer for over twenty years.

 

 

“For Such a Time” Is Ersatz

Writers like Katherine Locke and Kelly Faircloth have blogged about the bizarre nature of the romance Kate Breslin concocted between a Nazi and his Jewish prisoner in her debut novel For Such a Time.ย  However much Breslin tries to make this relationship redemptive and wonderful, she can’t blur the cruel power dynamic at its core; the threat of rape and death; and the fact that genocide gets swept away at the book’s end.

What also troubles me about For Such a Time is the slipshod editing.ย  How nobody at Breslin’s publishing house corrected her clumsy attempts to root the book in the Holocaust or her skewed knowledge of Judaism and Jewish culture.

Examples abound.ย  Why does she use the word Hakenkreuz rather than Swastika?ย  The latter word is one most readers would be familiar with.ย  Hakenkreuz is a feeble attempt to make the book feel historically accurate.ย  So is using Sturmabteilung rather than SA or Brownshirts.ย  Both of those are much more more familiar to readers of historical novels or thrillers set in Nazi Germany–and more understandable.

Why field the obscure word Gรคnsebraten when roast goose would do just as well?ย  Surely anyone picking up this book will understand that it’s set in Germany after the first few pages.ย  Breslin doesn’t need to keep reminding us, as when she substitutes the word Kaffee for coffee over half a dozen times. But Kaffee isn’t italicized, which it should be since it’s in a foreign language.ย  Page after page, you feel she’s just overdoing it and the publisher is careless and clueless.

Which is unfortunate, given Breslin’s weak grasp of German and Germany’s history with Jews.ย  Breslin’s heroine is addressed as “Jude.”ย  That’s the masculine for Jew in German, not the feminine, which is Jรผdin.ย  But more egregious than that, the Nazis had many terms of abuse for Jews, and simply calling her a Jew is not pejorative enough–given the period.

If Breslin was so desperate for authenticity, a little research would have yielded the insult Judensau among others. The Nazis were very fond of this slur which means “Jew pig,” and as a despicable term for Jews in Germany, it dates back to the Middle Ages.ย  It was so widely used, images were carved on churches.

Breslin’s understanding of Jewish culture and religion is also grossly off-base.ย  In a glossary at the book’s end, she defines a yarmulke as a “prayer cap.”ย  No it isn’t.ย  It’s a skullcap; it’s not just worn at prayers by observant Jews.ย  More incorrectly, she thinks a shtetl is a “small town or ghetto.”ย  That’s flat-out wrong.ย  It’s the Yiddish for a small Jewish or heavily Jewish village or town in Eastern Europe–not remotely the same thing as a ghetto.

If that inaccuracy isn’t enough, the glossary says that Jews in the Holocaust wore a “gold” star to identify “their Jewry.”

Breslin further makes a hash of history when she says that “Sarah” was “a term that Nazis used for Jewesses.”ย  That makes it sound like a synonym.ย  It wasn’t.ย  What she seems to be getting at is the legislation in 1938 which forced Jews with “non-Jewish” names to add “Sara” [sic] or “Israel” as middle names to their identity papers so that there could be no doubt they were Jewish.ย  She and her publisher also seem oblivious to the fact that the word “Jewess” isn’t just dated, it’s widely considered offensive.

One more indignity: Breslin crams the novel with more German than it needs, but gets a key German term related to the Holocaust wrong. The German word for Final Solution, Endlรถsung, is rendered as Endoslung in the book and in the glossary.

All these errors come from an author who claims to love the Jewish people. As the song goes, “Who Needs Love Like That?”

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in many genres including Rosedale in Love, set in New York during The Gilded Age.