The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Shining City, By Seth Greenland

When I travel, I like to bring along a few reliable books, which usually means books by authors who have made me smile in the past. On my most recent vacation, I took books by Julia Glass, Jenny Shortridge, Mary Doria Russell and, reviewed here, Seth Greenland.

In discussing The Bones a few months ago, I praised Greenland for giving depth to even his most minor characters. I have a place in my heart reserved for authors who treat their characters with compassion and give them great complexity. Even a villain has an internal logic that comes from somewhere other than an inherent evil. And in Shining City, Greenland’s villains all make sense as people instead of being cardboard cut-outs. While Shining City’s protagonist, Marcus Ripps, is not the most complex man in fiction, he’s got dimension — as does his wife, his son, his mother-in-law, his attorneys, his competitors, his boss, and his “business associates.”

About those business associates — they’re hookers. Early in the story, Marcus loses his job as a factory manager. His wife, Jan, owns a failing boutique, and their middle-class life is about to disintegrate in a flood of debt and over-extension. Conveniently, Marcus’s estranged brother dies, bequeathing to Marcus a business known as Shining City drycleaners, which is really a front for an escort service. In desperate need of both income and validation, regardless of source, Marcus takes over this little goldmine, eventually bringing in Jan as his partner and her mother as their bookkeeper. Of course, this is not a simple business, and the unique twist that Marcus gives it is cause for some of the humor. Greenland keeps the story moving, and I was sorry to see it come to an end.

The only problem I had with Shining City was the appearance of a competitor in the escort service business. I keep mentally “fixing” her interactions with Marcus, which seemed like they could have been mutually beneficial while still allowing Greenland to proceed with the rest of the story as planned. Every novel asks us to suspend belief in at least one spot, but my brain couldn’t let go of this particular passage. That’s not a flaw, however, it’s just an observation. As with The Bones, I strongly recommend this book. If you have to pick between the two, in fact, I suggest Shining City.

As for animals, there is a terrier named Bertrand Russell who shows up periodically and comes to no harm. The death of a goldfish is mentioned in passing, and Marcus feels as if a coyote is following him. So this book is completely SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

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November 6, 2009 - Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, families, humor, satire | , ,

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