Review: Precious

Thank you Lisa for inviting me to read Precious for the TLC book tour last month.

Precious is Sandra Novack’s first novel. She has been published in The Iowa Review, The Mississippi Review, The Chattahoochee Review, The Gettysburg Review, and Gulf Coast. She has three times been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and currently resides in Atlanta.
This is the story of the Kisch family – they give new meaning to the term dysfunctional. The mother has an affair and returns months later to find her family hostile and angry. The father is dealing with his own demons and their two young girls (17 and 9 years old) are trying to survive from day to day.

In the opening pages we learn that Eva and Sissy’s mom has left the family. Natalia, the mother, is having an affair and followed the man to Italy. Sissy’s best friend Vicki is missing and Eva is angry.

As the story unfolds we follow Eva down a dangerous path. Her mother has left and she needs to take care of her 9 year old sister and the house. With Vicki, the neighbor girl, missing everyone is on high alert and afraid to let the children play. Eva is not prepared to be a mother figure and take on this responsibility. We watch her struggle with the reality of her life and she starts to make bad decisions, one which results in sleeping with her English teacher and carrying on an affair with him.

I do not want to give away the story but can assure you this is a story worth reading, each character is well developed and interesting. The plot has many twists and keeps you engaged. There is a lot to discuss and I recommend this to book clubs. I will be recommending Precious to my local book club.

A conversation with Sandra NovakTell us a little about yourself: I grew up in a blue-collar family in Pennsylvania, and I have two older brothers and sisters who are about 10-15 years older than I am (which makes me the condom that broke!). Unlike some, I didn't always know that I wanted to be a writer and had plans to perhaps go into counseling. I came into writing during my Masters program, though, and continued on for an MFA. I'm a huge lover of books and reading, have taught workshops in a variety of places, and have lived in about five different states since leaving PA. Right now, I'm currently living in GA but will be moving to Chicago this summer, which is great because my husband and I love variety and love various ethnic foods. Is there a better thing than eating a great dinner with someone you love? We also have entirely too many pets, which is an issue best left to the shrinks. My husband, Phil, is a paleontologist and does weird things, like lick fossils, which makes us very compatible in our weirdness, because I do weird things like smell Vick's Vapor Rub (spelling?) and tape, just for the heck of it. We were made for each other! We have no children, by choice, because I always think I'd be a horrible mother. But all in all, at thirty-six, I'm happy and content with my life, which is much different than I was at, say, age eighteen. I think time does wonders to improve us all, like good wine. At least I hope so! That said: some of my closest friends have told me I'm much sweeter at 36, but also much crankier...Oh, and yes, this brings me to the final point: I curse an awful lot. It upsets my mother, who "didn't raise me that way".

Do you write daily? I do try and write each day, yes. It keeps me level! Plus, I find that when I'm "off" my schedule it's more difficult to get back into it. When I was on the reading tour for Precious, I didn't write for almost a month and it took about that long to start up again once I got home. Mostly a good writing day is one in which I wake up, walk the dog with my husband, write from maybe about 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 2:00 p.m. If I can acoomplish that (no matter how badly the writing is!) I feel like I've had a successful day. Like most writers I know, I also fart around a lot.

What was it like getting your first novel published (I have heard some great stories and would love to include your story if you would like to share your experience)? My agent landed me a two-book deal with a partial novel and a completed story collection. So I wrote most of Precious under a nine month deadline. That was exciting, to just have my life seem to change overnight. And the entire process was really educational, actually, if not a wee bit tiring. Mostly I'm a process girl and feel best when I'm just writing; it's like that's when I have a purpose. But actually having the first novel published and in hand? I don't know. I found it to be a bit of a downer. It's like you get your book delivered and everything that was once beyond you and bigger than you is suddenly packaged and sold for 16.50 (automatic discount on Amazon!). On my launch day, my editor and publicist sent flowers and told me I should celebrate, but you know mostly I just sat around and slept. That probably wasn't the story you wanted to hear.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? I think they are changing the way people read, and that this all will have ramifications for the industry. Personally, though, I love the feel of a good book, and I am so low-tech I barely even use my cell phone. I don't have an Ipod, and I wouldn't know what to do with a BlackBerry, so I suspect it will be quite a while before I personally get a KINDLE. That said, I have recently thought that KINDLE would be an excellent way to store those books I can't seem to live without but probably won't ever read again. (I know, I know, I hoard.) Having the knowledge that the words are there, stored electronically, would be comforting, I think. Plus, it would mean I don't have to pack up 100 boxes of books, like I did the last time we moved. Boxes of books are surprisingly heavy.

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? Read, anyone you love, and learn from those writers. Also, don't be afraid to fail. (I realize that's two tips; sorry.)

What are you reading now? John Irving's The Cider House Rules (he's so wonderfully sensitive toward his characters!) and I plan to start reading Bound South, by Susan Rebecca White. She's a debut writer I recently did a reading gig with in Atlanta. She's very funny on the page, and she has a great first-person voice.

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: Atonement, by Ian McEwan, and Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. The list changes, though, depending on my mood.
Just for fun:Favorite Season: Fall
Morning or night: Morning
Favorite ice cream flavor: Potato chips
If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: Italy, but did I mention I hate to fly?
BWAV rating of this book: 3.5 stars
Type: Fiction, 288 pages, Hardcover

Synopsis:The summer of 1978, ten-year-old Vicki Anderson rides her bike to the local park and goes missing. The face of her tight knit, blue collar Pennsylvania neighborhood, where children roam the streets at night playing lightening tag, above-ground pools litter the back yards, and flowers scent the air, will never be the same.

Down the street from Vicki's house, another family is in crisis. Troubled by her past, headstrong Natalia Kisch has abandoned her husband and two daughters for another man. Frank Kisch, grappling with his anger, is left to raise their girls alone, oblivious to his daughters' struggles with both disappearances: Eva, seventeen, plunges into an affair with her married high school teacher, and nine-year-old Sissy escapes to a world of imagination and storytelling that becomes so magical it pierces the reality of the everyday.

When Natalia unexpectedly returns, the struggles and tensions which have built over the summer erupt into a series of events that change the Kisches irrevocably—forcing them to piece together their complicated pasts and commitments to one another.

In this haunting, atmospheric debut, Sandra Novack examines loss, loyalty, and family. Lyrical and elegiac, Precious underscores our attempts to make sense of the volatility that surrounds us, and explores our ability, even during the most trying times, to remember and hold onto those we love most.

"[A] lyrical and finely crafted first novel...The graceful prose and bleak atmosphere underscore the loneliness of each character. Novack takes the massive distance between friends, husbands and wives, and makes it her home."—Publishers Weekly
"[A] dramatic, elegantly rendered debut. In this accomplished first novel, [Novack] writes tellingly of the complex relationships among families, lovers, and friends."—Booklist (Starred Review)