Where is Coco Chanel When You Need Her?

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Coco Chanel once famously said, "Once you've dressed, and before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off". While she was talking about fashion, I think there is some relevance in that quote for writing as well. While good fiction can be mutli-layered and complex, adding more characters, more plot lines, more words just for the sake of them can take a decent story and put it over the top.

I think that Kristin Hannah should have taken that advice when writing The Magic Hour. It is the
story of a psychiatrist named Julia who must flee her practice in disgrace after a scandal involving a patient of hers who perpetrated a violent act at school. When her sister, the sheriff in the small town where they grew up, calls her to consult on a case, she sees both an escape hatch and a chance to earn some redemption. A little girl has shown up in the town-battered, bruised, malnourished, non-verbal, and animalistic. The sheriff wants Julia to assess the girl, and get her to tell them who she is. As Julia begins to work with the girl, she realizes that she has stumbled upon a feral child-a child who has essentially been raised  without any normal human socialization. As Julia becomes closer to the girl, she is determined to protect her from any and all outside influences that might want to exploit her.

This is the first Hannah book I've read, and I will admit that the kind of women's fiction she writes (a la Lifetime movie) is not really my jam. But I was intrigued enough with the premise that I think I would have been OK with the book if only she had followed dear old Coco's advice. There is a LOT going on in this book. There's the scandal that sends Julia away from her lucrative Los Angeles practice; the feral girl; a love story between Julia and one of the doctors in town, who in turn has his own secret that he is protecting; a love story between the sheriff and one of her deputies; a rocky relationship between the two sisters that must be resolved; a group of psychiatrists who want to study the girl like a specimen in a jar; and finally, the girl's father. The girl's father and his back story was the last straw.  See, the girl's father was a man who was accused of killing his wife and child (the girl) when they disappeared years before. Convicted of their murder, he was in jail until DNA tests determined that the girl was really his "murdered" offspring. When he comes to collect her, there is a war of wills between him-rich, arrogant, self-centered-and Julia-caring, nurturing, mama-bear like. It was just one thing too many. The love stories were irrelevant to the main plot, and the added convolution of the father being a convicted killer who maybe isn't a killer but is still a "bad guy" pushed it into the absurd.

Bottom line, I wasn't really feeling this one by the end. But I did finish it, so that's something, I suppose. So, lovers of Lifetime movies, have at it!

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