A WRITER'S WIT
To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
e. e. cummings
Born October 14, 1894
My Book World
The Paragraph Ranch indeed has something to offer every reader. Evenly divided into twenty-four chapters—like two cartons of farm fresh eggs--TPR feels like a multigenre novel: part creative-writing text, part family saga, and part cozy mystery. Whew! That’s a lot to expect of just one book, but Brannon and Ellington have created one that seizes your attention from the first paragraph (heh heh) and never lets you go.
Thirty-something Dee Barnett-Kaufmann, native Texan, is called back to her home from North Carolina, where she teaches literature at Walter Raleigh College. Not only that but she’s recently been awarded a distinguished writing fellowship for the summer, one that would up her cred in her department by giving her time to finish her book about G. H. Templeton, a long-forgotten professor of creative writing. All it takes, however, is one phone call from her sister Penny back in Texas to change all of Dee’s plans. Seems that the youngest Barnett daughter is now needed at home more than ever—a woman who couldn’t wait to flee the town of Claxton, when she was eighteen.
Each chapter is titled in a way that suggests its content but is also headed with an epigram about how writing works—ostensibly from the writings of G. H. Templeton, the author Dee is researching. Chapter 2, for example, is entitled “No Place Like Home.” The epigram reads: “Create an unforgettable sense of place, through close observation, powerful imagery, and precise description” (16). Then the authors proceed to do just that, limning a clear and colorful view of the Barnett ranch outside Claxton in West Texas but also continuing the tension that has begun in Chapter 1.
They tightly weave this strand of the novel—Dee’s thus far vain effort to finish her book—with others: her establishment of a writing group in Claxton, Texas, where she feels she is marooned with her cantankerous mother, who’s just been involved in a mysterious car accident, from which she emerges with two broken wrists; two siblings who now want their mother to sell the family ranch; Dee’s daughter’s flirtation with dropping out of Smith College, as well as a flirtation more fleshly; Dee’s potential relationship with a local landscape photographer (following her marriage that has come to an end). Yep, a bit of romance, too!
The strands of the novel are so well woven together by Brannon and Ellington that the plot appears seamless. As Brannon suggested to me recently, she and Ellington think of the plot as a braid in which one strand is woven over the other until all the loose ends are tied up. And as with any good novel, the reader will, I believe, wish to follow each strand until every curiosity is sated, every mystery solved. A real page-burner!
And what is this I hear? There are two more Paragraph Ranch volumes in production! Can’t wait. And neither should you.
Buy your copy of The Paragraph Ranch from one of the following establishments:
Barnes and Noble
SAVE THE DATE
December 4, 2014
2801 42nd Street
NEXT TIME: Italia 2, More Photographs!