Tuesday, April 4, 2017

CELINE :: Peter Heller

Rarely do I finish a book and grieve it. As much as I may love a book, I'm ready and able to move on to the next potentially wondrous reading experience. This time, it was different. When the number of pages in my right hand started to get smaller, I got bummed out. I did not want to leave this book. I wanted to crawl in it and hang out for...who knows, maybe not the remainder of my days, but an appreciable period of time. I don't keep Top Ten lists, but if I did, Celine would have to be on that list.

What follows is a version of my review of Celine that previously ran in Shelf Awareness. It is re-posted here with permission.

Flawless art is arguably unattainable and most certainly in the subjective eye of the beholder. Through that lens, Peter Heller's Celine is utter perfection. Debatable hyperbole aside, when a knockout mystery is the least fabulous element of a novel, something exceptional is afoot.

Celine Watkins is simply sublime. Born into American aristocracy, she's lived life outside that box. As comfortable in Jackie O sunglasses as a Glock shoulder holster, Celine is a 69-year-old recovering alcoholic with emphysema and a mysterious history in government work. The epitome of an old-school movie dame, she's wickedly sharp and does not suffer fools.

A private investigator with a soft spot for lost causes, Celine's specialty is reuniting families. One day a stranger named Gabriela shares the story of her beloved father, long believed dead. Celine and Pete, her perfect counterweight of a husband, are sufficiently intrigued to set out in a borrowed camper to investigate.

The investigation is backdrop to larger themes about art, despair, loyalty, obligation and privilege, illuminating Celine's colorful history and deeper motivations along the way. Heller's writing is smart and clever, rich and intimate, the depth and vitality of his characters second to none.

No reader expects perfection, so when something like Heller's Celine unfurls page after page, when the characters are so rich one doesn't want to break the bond by turning the last one, it's a privilege to have inhabited their world. Pete summarizes it best: when one moves through the world with Celine, it's simply more fun.

STREET SENSE: Run, don't walk.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: I admit it, I usually have little patience for landscape descriptions. But Peter Heller is one of those authors who does it in a way that makes me want to go back and re-read it (he and another Peter, Peter May, both have that gift). So this is one of those, It was to do with the ocean, which also endeared it to me, even if it was the scary side of the ocean:

It was the next wave and it was the second in a set and he watched it as if in slow motion: the wall lightening to green as it rose, rising impossibly tall, the guarding boulders out in the cove dwarfed beneath it, the quivering top frayed by wind and then a piece of it curled and collapsed and the wall fell: a surge of whitewater chest-high roared in over the black slack water of the inner cove and he was slugged and knocked over, his shoulder and neck hit rock, he came up lunging out of ice foam to see the tumult sucking back.

COVER NERD SAYS: The advanced reading copy I read has a very different cover. While I may have initially liked that one more, I think this one is a better representation of the book. Green isn't up there on my list of favorite colors, but being a fan of brevity (which I realize rarely shows in my writing--maybe that's why I'm a fan) I like this cover. It feels right, which is really what cover art is all about. The font variance also lends itself well to the many different faces of Celine. This book could have been written in a number of different fonts and I couldn't have complained. I'm not sure a cover could ever live up to the innards here, and while this one is not going to make my year's favorite cover list, it does its job well.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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