Reviews

For Limestone Wall

“Limestone Wall is a slim novel that nevertheless contains worlds upon worlds — in the wonderfully knobby, authentic characters, and in its elegant meditations on childhood, marriage, death, and the passage of time.  Each page is a gift of beauty and truth.  Fans of Marilynne Robinson and Paul Harding will find much to admire in Marlene Lee’s books.”

Author Keija Parssinen, The Unraveling of Mercy Louis and The Ruins of Us.

For Scoville

“I’m already into ‘Three Blind Mice,’ completely captivated by it, and finding it hard to put down. And by the way, the cover is as splendid as the story itself.

“I’m fascinated by the characters, and keep searching for clues in their personalities that will lead me to the truth of Duane’s murder. I’m really hooked! The writing, as always, is wonderful, is YOU, such as ‘He mused on the naughty child trapped in his old body.’

“It’s really marvelous that the writer of The Absent Woman and Rebecca’s Road is just as meaningfully effective in a murder mystery.”

Ella Leffland
Author of Rumors of Peace; The Knight, Death, and the Devil; Mrs. Munck, and other novels

For Rebecca’s Road

“In Rebecca’s Road, Marlene Lee takes us on a journey (literally and figuratively) in which a life slowly but surely works to discover its purpose. Lee not only introduces us to a woman who may have lost her sense of self, but she also shows us someone who is determined to go out and try to find it. The stories of Rebecca’s Road are ones of hope, loss, adventure, and ultimately redemption.”

–Adam Braver, author of the novels DIVINE SARAH, CROWS OVER THE WHEATFIELD, MISFIT, and others.

For The Absent Woman

“In Marlene Lee’s psychologically astute debut, THE ABSENT WOMAN, Virginia Johnstone finds herself straining against the limitations of her existence as a comfortable suburban wife and mother. She leaves her husband and her boys to embark on a sometimes exhilarating, sometimes excruciating, and always compelling journey of self-examination. In lucid prose, Lee tells a marvelous story with echoes of Kate Chopin’s THE AWAKENING.”.

Keija Parsinnen, author of THE RUINS OF US.

“I simply loved [THE ABSENT WOMAN]. You write quite beautifully, with grace and wit and precision. I thought it was a very brave book, and very honest. Virginia’s feelings about leaving her boys were especially resonant. And I thought you wrote about music so wonderfully. I found it all so convincing. Thank you for writing such a beautiful book. It will stay with me for a long time, I know.”

Alex George, author of A GOOD AMERICAN.

“One member of Columbia’s prolific writing community has, this year, published not one, but two books.  After working for several decades perfecting her craft, Marlene Lee’s second tome, Rebecca’s Road, was released by Holland House at the end of October.  The author has spent several weeks giving readings from the work — in Columbia and as far away as New York City, her former hometown.

“Each reading illuminates a different story from the nine connected vignettes in her book, all about a woman who has spent her entire 50 years living on a peach orchard in California, under the influence of a domineering mother.  When her mother dies, Rebecca decides it’s time to see something of the world.

“Although the book is not a novel, or a novella, the episodic stories connect in a linear narrative, each illustrating some new dimension of Reecca’s progression of self-discovery.  As with any road trip, the implied travel between stories — the road — is a ribbon loosely connecting the drama of each destination, and the short-story structure works well to further the plot while leaving space and freedom for the reader to impose imagination.

“Lee’s gift is in apt, humorous descriptions that bring her locations and character to life.  She illustrates the naivete — and transformation — of her character especially well, as Rebecca’s horizons expand far beyond the only home she has known.  Her awkwardness endears Rebecca to the reader, and her inexperience often leads to humorous moments.

“For example, in the story “Passage,” which Lee read this month at Yellow Dog Books, Rebecca enrolls in a writer’s conference in North Carolina — not because she has writerly ambitions but because it’s her only option for getting a room.

“After checking in, she meets one of her suitemates, “a young woman, very young, perhaps 18 or 19.  Rebecca envied her silky blonde hair, undyed, and the moist skin of someone who still manufactures her own estrogen.”

“This wry and surprising description caught the audience off guard and elicited the first of many chuckles produced by the story which Lee also shared with her Manhattan audience.  The response there was so positive, she decided to read it here, too.  At Orr Street on Dec. 17, she’ll read “The Dome,” which is set in Jefferson City.

“In an individualistic culture where high emphasis is placed on physical attractiveness, and the achievement of personal goals, it’s unusual to read the story of a woman who, past her sexual prime, sets out on an adventure in which she finds real richness and meaning within herself and in others.  She transcends her own ailments and negative experiences by becoming less self-absorbed.

“‘She gains confidence,” Lee said of Rebecca’s growth.  ‘She learns that she can do things.  She falls in love.  She stops always having anxiety attacks about herself but starts to help others. . . .  At the end — I don’t want to give away the end — but she becomes a full adult, I would say. by caring about others and learning to work.’

“‘Some people wouldn’t say that happiness is necessarily the goal.  But there’s a well-being . . . which can encompass a certain regret or melancholy, and it’s balanced.  I think Rebecca is on her way toward that.’

“Lee herself has experienced a fair degree of travel and change and has reflected on the meaning and value of growing older.  She wrote many of her stories during what she called a long period of gestation, keeping them separate from her ‘day job’ court reporting, materials on her desk.

“‘I never let anything cover up the creative work,’ she said, ‘because I was afraid it would get buried in my mind.  My ambition had to remain clear in my mind, and it did.’

“And she is now reaping the rewards of her efforts — in addition to the two books published this year, two are slated for release in 2014.  Most were written in the past and are being edited now for publication, but Lee is still actively engaged in writing.  ‘I don’t ever want to stop,’ she saiys.”

From “Road Trip,” the Columbia Daily Tribune, by Amy Wilder.

Click on the link to read another review.
http://thereviewgroup.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/anna-reviews-absent-woman-by-marlene-lee.html

For The Absent Woman:

“The narrator seems to possess the restless energy of a child, the observant eye of an introverted teenager and the solidifying wisdom of someone much older: a fractured figure grasping at wholeness. This is Lee’s first published book, and her gathered years of social observation are on display in the storytelling.

“Perhaps the most important question the novel wrangles with is this: Is there a true, final answer to the sense of incompleteness that, at some point, every person faces? Virginia attempts to deal with her own sense of incompleteness by projecting her longings onto both her piano teacher, Twilah, and Twilah’s industrious, artistic son, Greg. Those projections inevitably bump up against the people they actually are, which lends the tension needed to fill out the characters and give them complexity. Virginia’s persistent efforts to learn about the absent woman betrays her own lostness, lending an illuminating insight into how we often try to untangle someone else’s story to make sense of our own realities.”

–Jill Renae Hicks, “Author seeks elusive answers in first novel,” Columbia Tribune, June 30, 2013

For Rebecca’s Road

Recently, Marlene Lee’s novel REBECCA’S ROAD was the subject of an article by Amy Wilder in the Columbia Daily Tribune.  Wilder wanted to include some aspects of the illustration process and asked artist B. Lloyd for her perspective on the whole process.  For the entire interview and slide show, “Road to Colour,” click on “Holland House Books/Interviews” at the top of Marlene’s home page.

“Firstly, both author and publisher had very clear ideas from the start of the kind of look, style and feel they wanted for the illustrations and the book as a whole; this simplified and speeded up the whole process.

“In this particular case, the author sent through a watercolour illustration from another source which she  had chosen for its simplicity of line and colour – almost naïf yet with, as the publisher pointed out, a certain imbalance or juxtaposition of elements that slightly skews  or cuts the composition, hinting at some disquiet.

“This image set the feel and colours for the whole book.

“From reading the book, I came away with a set of recurring images and themes to feed into the illustrations, the strongest being peaches. We did not include these in every illustration; restrained use at salient points would make more  impact.

“Another idea I came away with was that we should not show Rebecca’s face. This became a conscious choice, once we established that we wanted the reader to visualize through her eyes, so to speak.

“Working from all this as a starting point, I prepared a series of rough pen and ink sketches; the selection was then narrowed down to one concept/idea, which I then colour filled in Photoshop until we had established the basic palette. I then prepared the watercolours themselves, which I uploaded to check for modifications, additions, final approval. Because of the fairly extensive background work there was rarely need for any drastic changes in the original version,

“The cover was perhaps the most challenging part; it certainly took the most revisions, test runs and stimulating discussion generally! This is where design software like Photoshop is exceptionally handy for combining elements quickly and effectively before proceeding to paint (as well as testing out fonts, another aspect that took up even more time to decide on than the actual illustrations!)

“The basic challenge was naturally, developing images from each story; probably ‘Most Strange’ was the most problematic – after various testers, Marlene suggested  the slot machine; I suggested peaches, to bring in the underlying themes I mentioned earlier.

“These then were the basic pointers: themes, concepts, styles (or language) via these channels the author’s work is filtered, through line and colour to achieve (one hopes!) the ultimate goal of effectively conveying the author’s  intentions.

“The approach: whether writing or illustrating/painting, I have found similarities – you have a language, a voice, with tools (grammar/ paint brushes, syntax/colour , structure/composition) and while coming to a written work as an outsider might have its abstract value, I can’t help feeling that a fellow writer can bring perception, understanding  and analysis; interpretation needs to be there in any case, but the added richness of working with words, loving words, living words is surely an added bonus to the business of illustrating them.”

Artist and author (Greenwood Tree), B. Lloyd.

  1)Preliminary sketch. The idea was approved so I moved onto simple colour fill.

2)The sketch, with simple colour fill applied in with Photoshop. A couple of modifications were suggested, i.e.: spikier tree outlines, to suggest more threatening elements, and a different hairstyle for the male figure seated on the bench.

  3) The design is transferred to cotton pressed paper and watercolour applied, following the general colour scheme proposed earlier.

The cover proved a lengthier process: from a range of initial ideas, we(publisher, author and artist) narrowed down to a workable starting point:

Starting from the solitary figure of Rebecca, we next tried a landscape on the horizon, with Rebecca before and after looking at it

The landscape failed to suggest the theme and feel of the book; while the cadillac and peach trees were retained as key images

The dove, prepared for the limited edition, was suggested – from back cover, it was shifted over to the front, to complement the peaches, while the campus illustration minus the building offered the image of a more pivotal scene; less invading than the complete illustration, and again, offering key components of the story line

The idea of the path or road was retained on the spine.

The Cadillac was ‘spookified’ as in the original book illustration.

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