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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Again and Again More Angry Feminist Rant Than Evocative Political Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Deborah Borenstein heads to Danforth University, eager to shake off her Cleveland roots and change the world.  The 18-year-old hopes to share a dorm room with a chic New Yorker, someone who can help her transform into the smart, successful woman she longs to become.  Liddie Golmboch, a scholarship student from a Wisconsin farming family, cannot be more different than the ideal roommate for whom Deborah has been praying.  And yet, she becomes a fast and faithful friend.  Liddie's naiveté makes her appealing, especially to William Harrison Quincy III, a wealthy frat boy.  When Deborah walks in on him raping her best friend, she's livid.  A traumatized Liddie can barely speak, barely function.  Outraged, Deborah vows to make sure Quincy pays for what he's done.

Thirty years later, Deborah still has nightmares about what happened to Liddie.  So affected has she been by the assault on her college roommate that she's spent decades fighting for women's rights as the director of a highly-respected activist group.  Maybe she couldn't bring Liddie's rapist to justice, but she's helped plenty of other victims.  Still, when she hears Quincy is seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate, she balks.  Deborah has first-hand knowledge of his true character, information that could destroy his political ambitions.  But, exposing him would put a still fragile Liddie in the spotlight and Deborah just can't do that to her friend.  Can she?  As the pressure builds, Deborah must make a terrible choice—reveal a rapist or betray her best friend.  Both choices may come with dire consequences, requiring the sacrifice of everything—and everyone—Deborah holds dear.  How far will she go to get justice?  At what cost?

Again and Again, a debut novel by Ellen Bravo, offers a compelling premise.  Not terribly original, but thought-provoking nonetheless.  Handled well, it could have led to a tense and affecting political thriller.  It didn't.  Bravo, a lifelong activist, is obviously passionate about her subject.  Unfortunately, this zeal makes Again and Again feel less like a novel and more like an angry feminist rant.  Deborah, who starts out as an abrasive, foul-mouthed college student doesn't get much warmer as an adult.  As a character, she never felt real to me, which made it difficult to connect with her.  I did admire the way she changed over thirty years, but other than that, she just seemed cold and flat.  The rest of Bravo's story people feel like flimsy clichés—especially the men who are, almost to a one, despicable.  While I agree with a lot of the views Bravo expresses through this novel, I would have preferred a more subtle approach.  Novels can teach powerful messages through empathetic characters, evocative prose, and impacting dialogue.  Again and Again doesn't have that richness.  If I hadn't committed to reviewing the book, I wouldn't have moved past the first chapter. 

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for very strong language, violence, sexual content, and references to underage drinking, illegal drug use, and sexual assault

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Again and Again from the generous folks at She Writes Press via those at TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!

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