Red Fern Book Review

The Plot and When the Stars Go Dark

September 24, 2021 Amy Mair Season 2 Episode 3
Red Fern Book Review
The Plot and When the Stars Go Dark
Show Notes Transcript


Amy explores two darker novels that are not exactly thrillers or are they? The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz is the story of a washed up academic who steals a student's story.  One of the most hyped books of this past summer, this novel takes plenty of twists and turns and explores the question of who owns a story. When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain follows troubled missing person's detective Anna Hart as she reckons with her past and tries to solve the case of several missing girls in Northern California. Paula, best known for the historical novel The Paris Wife,  draws upon her own history to create this moody and atmospheric book.

Books and Resources Discussed:

Hacks, HBO
The Moth, podcast
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
The Dutch House, Ann Patchett

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Amy Mair:

Hello, welcome back to the Red Fern Book Review. I'm your host, Amy Mair. And today we're going to talk about two books that are technically not thrillers, but actually they kind of are in their tone and pacing and content. They both have a mystery, but their primary purpose is not just to be a whodunit. You'll see what I mean. The first book is one of the biggest books of this past summer. It's called the plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz correlates. And the second book is when the stars go dark, which is a big departure for Paula McLain, who is best known for her historical novels, namely The Paris Wife. And this book is also really interesting because it draws a lot upon her own personal and difficult past. So before we get into the books, I want to talk with you about some things that I'm watching and listening to right now. So the first thing I want to talk about is a show that I'm really enjoying called Hacks on HBO. This show stars Jean Smart who is having quite the career resurgence right now. From her, you will know her from designing women. And she played the hard driving mother in Mare of Easttown. And in this she plays it's supposed to be apparently a veiled kind of take on Joan Rivers. And what it is, is she is an aging comedian, with a residency in Las Vegas, and she is washed up. She just really isn't that funny anymore. But she can't really see her way out of it. And she's about to have her residency cancelled. So her agency, her agent, and kind of a last ditch effort, pairs her with a young, kind of very impulsive woman named Ava, and she is played by Hannah Einbinder. This young woman does something she really shouldn't on Twitter and gets cancelled in a second. Like, can happen. And her only chance for rehabilitation or for any job at all, is to move to Vegas and Jean Smart's character Deborah Vance rehabilitate her career. So as you can imagine, it's an Oscar and Felix situation. Deborah doesn't think she needs the help. And Ava is full of eye rolls and just can't believe she's here. But as you can also probably guess, a friendship starts to form. And I really like the show. Okay, so the second thing I'm going to talk about is a podcast that I'm really enjoying. And it's called The Moth. And what the moth is, it's a compilation of the best of The Moth Radio Hour, which is a radio program that features stories that they say are prominent, prominent enough to make the headlines, but enough to make heads turn. And what this is, is the Radio Hour was founded in 1997. By Georgia native and New York residents and novelist, George Dawes Green. I'm gonna guess that George was a little lonely in New York City and probably pining a bit for his hometown or his home state. And what he did was he wanted to recreate the feeling of a sultry summer evening, where moths were attracted to the light on the porch where he and his friends would gather and tell tell stories. And so this podcast is contains each one contains like three to four mini stories. And this what this is, it's very similar to a poetry slam if you've ever been to a poetry slam, or people stand up on a live mic and just tell their truth through poetry. And this is the same, but it's not portrayed the short story. What The Moth does is they hold these moth slams all over the United States where people get up with open mic and tell these stories. And this podcast is sort of the best of each one. And so I turned into tuned into an episode called doctors judgments and dictators. And it just ran the gamut. It included a story about a Boston University nerd from Saudi Arabia, who's falsely accused of planting a bomb on a train, and what he goes through and, and where he goes to get support. There's another story about an Irishman with a love of speaking. But he's got a terrible stammer that he can't fix. And so he talks about that. There's a guy who learned Arabic in school, and he only took the class in university, because it was an afternoon class, and he really didn't want to get up for Spanish, and French. And because he knows Arabic, he ends up brokering a deal with one of the world's most notorious dictators, and a controversial former United States President. So check that out if you want some storytelling in your life. And I have said this before that podcasts are great for information like hopefully, while you're listening to me, and entertainment, and this is that this is just it'll take you on a journey. And it's quite amazing and 10 minutes, you can go on a complete ride with someone. And it's a special podcast. And I don't did I mentioned this, it's it has 50 million downloads a week, and it makes it the biggest one of the biggest podcasts anywhere in the world. So that's a bit of recommendation. Okay, let's get to the books. So the first book we're going to talk about is The Plot. And The Plot ticks a lot of boxes for me. It's a campus novel, which I have come to learn I really love. And it's also got a bit of a mystery, but it's not a hardcore mystery. So those two things together, are quite appealing. It is written by Jean Hanff Korelitz, who is his she's been a longtime writer. And she wrote a book that was the basis for The Undoing with Nicole Kidman. She also wrote the book. And I think the screenplay for Admission, which is a send up on getting into Ivy League schools. It was this book was one of the most hyped books of summer, and in my opinion, it lives up to it. It was, it's fairly long, but it's a super page turner. And it's I just I couldn't put it down. A little side note about this book, my book club actually did this book. And it was quite funny, I got a bit roasted. When we were discussing whether to choose this book, because somebody said, Amy, tell us what this book is about when we were trying to decide and, you know, like, a singer might just break into song. But if you asked me to describe a book, I can go on a bit long, I don't just give you one or two sentences that you're probably looking for. But I can go on and on. And I did a bit of that. And everyone got kind of people got a little mad at me because they thought I was spoiling the book. But in fact, I wasn't. And one of the things I do try and do is I really with this podcast, I want to give you all the information you need to decide whether or not you want to read the book or not. And I try really hard not to spoil the ending or the major themes. And but that is more of an art and it's not a science. So anyway, it did come out later that everyone agreed that I did not spoil it, but I was a bit on the hot seat there. Okay, so the book. So I heard this author interviewed, and she said this idea came out because she was sitting with her agents, and working on another book that wasn't going anywhere. And so she just mentioned this idea, and the agent was like, this is it. And she said it was born out of the idea of an author's biggest fear is accidentally plagiarizing. And that is because authors and writers are readers and you've, they've been reading their whole life and they grab little bits from here and there. Just like a fashion designer. Just like have visual artists like where? Who owns an idea? And where does an idea come from, and that is really at the heart of this book. So what the story is, is about a washed up professor of a creative writing program, kind of a no name, Creative Writing Program at the mythical Ripley College in Vermont. It's actually supposed to be named after a real or based on a real University, but I don't know which one it is. And the teachers name is Jacob Finch Bonner. And he has this very colicky student who tells him, I don't need to listen to you, I really don't need to pay attention in my courses, because I already have a surefire hit on my hands. And so one day, he shares the plot of his story that he's planning to write and he says, If I write this plot, it's a no brainer. I'm going to end up on Oprah, I'm going to be a household name, I'm going to have riches beyond belief. And Jacob is kind of jealous. And he has written a book, but it didn't really go anywhere. And so a couple years later, he looks up the sky to see Did he ever write this book? What happened? And he finds out that he's passed away. So then he thinks for probably a split second, what should I do, and then he decides to write the book himself. So he writes this book, and it becomes very popular, and that's the story. So that's all I'm gonna say about the plot. And what I would say is once it gets going, it becomes once he writes that story, and starts to go out to promote it. He gets a one word email from someone or one sentence email that says, I know what you've done. You're a thief. So it from there, it becomes a twisty, turny tale. There's travel involved. You don't know who's telling the truth. And this guy has to deal with what he's done. And he knows someone wants revenge, and he doesn't know how quite how to get out of it. So that's that book. Check it out. I really enjoyed it. It's a it'll be a great book for a vacation, or just, I thought it was just a wonderful book. Okay, so the next book I'm going to talk about is called When the Stars Go Dark, by Paula McLain. Now, this book is a thriller, I call it a thriller light with a message. It is about a troubled missing persons detective named Anna Hart, who is having problems in real life. So she leaves work, and goes to Mendocino where she spent some very formative years, and tries to mend her life. And while she's there concurrently, while she's there, a young woman in the foster system goes missing. So that really strikes a chord with her because she herself was part of the foster system. And what makes this book really unique, is Paula McLain herself, spent her entire childhood in the foster system, which is quite shocking. Considering how far she's gone with her life, and she's actually written about it in a book called Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses. So what she wanted to do with this book was explore her own past and talk about some of these children. So what I would say, the first thing about this book, what I did struggle with, she has written The Paris Wife, and also which is about Hemingway's wife damaged wife, Hadley. And then she went on to write one of my favorite books of all time, and my definitely my favorite historical novel called Circling the Sun, about the aviator Beryl Markham, who was a side character in out of Africa. And that alternates between Africa and England. And it's just lush and beautiful and romantic and daring. This book is nothing like those books is a complete 180. And what I struggle with a bit, was just that it wasn't when you love a book so much, it can be hard to then and you're following an author, it can be hard to let them change and grow. And it reminded me a little bit of Anne Patchett who I love and I bet you do to her beloved book Bel Canto, it's really hard to talk. She did also write state of wonder which I absolutely loved, which is take on the Heart of Darkness. But then she went on, and she wrote this book called The Dutch House, which a lot of people like, but I just didn't like it as much as some of her previous work. So I found that hard. And this is more just, I had to allow me to see Paula and a new light. And but it's, it's worth the journey with her. And so a little bit more about the book. The book is set in Mendocino. It's a sort of northern town on the coast. And it sounds a bit windswept and airy. And in this book, she has one of the focus at the focuses at the beginning of each chapter, she has a different vantage point of the statue that sits across a top the savings and loan building in the downtown, and it's called Time and the Maiden, and it's a creepy statue that plays the same role. As if you'll recall the statue in on the cover of the midnight in the garden of good and evil with that young girl with her arms stretched out, like a bird bath, that stretches bird bath. So and the history behind the statue, because of course, if anything having to do with our history, I got to check it out a bit more. And it actually was built by the Masons. And this savings and loan building in the late 1800s was actually a Masonic Temple. And apparently, the Masons still operate on the second floor. But the statue even though it went on to become a bank is still the statues are still there. They're carved out of redwood, Redwood trunk, they're painted white. And they're known as the time and the maiden and its father time. And there's also a weeping maiden. And I don't really know what they mean. But there are symbols of the mason culture, and unique to them. But they do they are kind of creepy and eerie, and makes me kind of want to visit the town and check it out more about the book. So this book also draws heavily on the Polly Klaas case, which also too place in Petaluma in Norther California, the same year tha the book is set. And the reaso why the book was set, the boo is set in 1993, which is kind o an interesting time period because you don't call tha historical fiction, but it' definitely in the past. And wha the author herself said is th reason why she said it, then sh randomly picked the 90s. But sh said it was really important t her that this book had to be pr DNA, pre cellphone and befor the internet, because it woul it otherwise you could just loo things up on the internet, an it would just be easier t solve. And so that's why it wa that at that time And what I wanted to conclude his talk about, oh, two more things. One more thing I wanted to say. The reason why this book is called when the stars go dark is Paul MacLean said, referring to children of child abuse or children in the foster system survivors is that the everyone is born with a bright light. And in occasionally, you know, one in 10 kids or maybe more. They don't have a good go of things. And that light gets snuffed out. And so what she's kind of been trying to be an advocate or shine a light on some some of these children that go through difficult times, and that we need to pay attention. And then what I wanted to do is conclude with Paula's own talk about this book, and what it really meant to her to be able to write it. And this is what she says and afterward: "Anna Hart's pain has led her to her path her destiny. And mine has led me precisely here to these characters real and imaginary, to the fern forest, dripping with fog, to the bluffs above the roaring Pacific to the cabin and the deep dark woods and into the very heart of this book, which is as personal as anything I have written. The carving of Time and the Maiden stand stark and white on the plinth above the village, just as it has for over 100 years. You could meet me there and we can walk together towards the bluff. Talking as the wind carries our voices for further and further on. So with that, I wanted to conclude our this edition of the Red Fern Book Review. And I wanted to thank you so much for joining and encourage you if you've enjoyed this podcast to give me a review on Apple podcasts and also share it with your friends. And I will invite you to tune in next week for the next edition. Thank you so much and I'll talk to you later