*** Embrace Me, Lisa Samson, 2008
I always approach a Lisa Samson novel with trepidation. I love so much of her work that with each new book I wonder if she can do it again. How many times can she ring that bell that resonates down to the core? The truth is that no matter how many times a novelist cranks out a sterling piece of work, each new project is a new chance to fail, an opportunity to demonstrate that the well is dry. Staring at the blank first page of a novel is a terrifying prospect, no matter how many you have written or sold.
A while back I listed my top three Lisa Samson picks. Now I must revise my ranking. Embrace Me, the 10th Samson novel I have read, just claimed the top ranking. I'm reluctant to displace The Living End as #1, so perhaps I'll rank Embrace Me as #0.
I won't summarize the plot, as you can find that information anywhere. Instead I'll tell you my impressions.
Lisa never shies from the tough road less taken. She climbs inside the characters and claws her way out to a plot and a theme. Sometimes, as in this case, she climbs inside some bizarre characters, but it just makes the journey that much more interesting.
Lisa's novels are in first person, although sometimes from multiple viewpoints. Heretofore those viewpoints were always female. Embrace Me marks the first foray into a male viewpoint, which she credits Will (her husband) for assisting in refining. I won't say that she totally nails the male perspective, but she's close enough as to make no difference. Mark Andrus may have written in As Good As It Gets that for Jack Nicholson to write women, "I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability." The only fault I'll attribute to Lisa in writing a man is that she may have not gotten shallow enough. Heh.
There are some startling revelations in Embrace Me that, in retrospect, I should have seen coming, but I didn't. This book knocked me out of the saddle more than once. The mercy is that, unlike The Living End, I didn't read it on the bus, so I didn't have to wear cheap sunglasses to preserve my privacy when it moved me.