Saturday, March 7, 2015

Finding Clarity - Laura Novak

    2011; 242 pages.  Full Title : Finding Clarity: A Mom, A Dwarf, and a Posh Private School in the People’s Republic of Berkeley.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Contemporary Humor; Mystery.  Overall Rating : 5½*/10.

    Clarissa “Clari” Drake’s career as a cute television reporter is pretty much over, thanks to two kids, eighty pounds, and an embarrassing video that went viral.  But she has a loving husband and two adorable kids, Zachary and Zeppo, so life in Berkeley, California – or, as some natives call it, Berzerkeley - is good.

    Zach has a rare condition called achondroplasia, which is a fancy word for dwarfism, and kids in school can be kinda mean.  So Clari enrolls him in a posh private school in Berkeley called Bidwell-Coggin, where, surprisingly, he's accepted among his fellow students and thrives .

    But something is fishy in the school board at B-C, and when the kindly old headmaster gets unceremoniously booted out, Clari’s investigative reporting instincts come out of hibernation, itching for some exercise.  Now if she can just find a couple of allies to help her with her snooping.

What’s To Like...
    The book’s subtitle lets you know that there is humor inside, and I personally found it to be a kind of “mild Erma Bombeck” variety – warm, wacky, family-oriented, and witty.  The POV is first-person, which is also in the Bombeck style.  The protagonist, Clari, is overweight, “sagging” (her word, not mine), with way too much cellulite.  I like it when the hero isn’t picture-perfect.

    Clari’s three co-conspirators (they call themselves the Ice Pick 4) are an eclectic blend of social and racial political correctness.  There’s the aging Earth Mother (Elspeth), the gay Hispanic (Carlos), and the angry black woman (Sydney), plus a Goth “fringe member” (Julian).  You’re treated to a couple more minorities via the bad guys, but it would be a spoiler to give details.  OTOH, every other character seems to get lumped into a single, stereotyped category – spoiled, rich, pretentious, Northern California snobs.

    There is some R-rated language.  While it didn’t offend me, it did feel clunky and unnecessary.  Erma didn’t need cusswords to be effective.  And while the humor and writing style were both good, the pacing was extremely slow.  At 50% (Kindle), I was still wondering whether a storyline existed, let alone whether it was going anywhere.

    Nevertheless, for the most part, the ending ties things up adequately.  Finding Clarity is a standalone novel and, while it is conceivable that a sequel or series could arise, I would be surprised if that happened.

Kewlest New Word...
Bilious (adj.) : affected by, or associated with nausea or vomiting.
Others : Walleye (n.); Gnocchi (adj., and used way too often)

    “He didn’t say anything else?”
    “Clari, let it go,” Andy advised from the edge of the daybed, where he was now seated, holding Zeppo upside down in a headstand.
    “There were some platitudes,” Zach continued in his tiny adult manner.  “But nothing of substance.”  I pulled my head back an inch and pursed my mouth.
    “Platitudes, huh?”  Lord love a duck, I didn’t know where he came up with those phrases.
    “But not to be confused with plongitudes,” Zeppo shrieked through his giggles.  (loc. 640)

    It was common knowledge that Sonya had always wanted to be on the Board and that Dick DeNutti blocked her each time she tried.  So, I got that she was a bored, rich, roving cliché in need of some putty to fill her psychic holes.  And I got that she was rail thin and attractive and probably wore really nice underwear.  I got all that.  But eeeewwwww, John Thomas Mueskes?  What, was she kidding?  (loc. 1655)

Kindle Details...
    Finding Clarity sells for $3.99 at Amazon.  At present, it is the only full-length novel that Laura Novak has available there.

“What kind of four-year-old uses the word bilious?”  (loc. 927)
    Alas, Finding Clarity is also touted as a mystery novel, and it is here that the book really disappoints.  First of all, the crime – school board hijinks – is by nature boring.  No murders, no  kidnapping, no thefts; just underhanded business dealings.

    Second, there are too many WTF’s.  The suspected bad guy keeps incriminating papers lying around in his bathroom.  To boot, when Clari absconds with them, he apparently doesn’t miss them.  And Mrs. Bad Guy can’t seem to remember seeing Clari’s face, even though they keep bumping into each other in all sorts of important times and places.

    The resolution of the mystery is equally unsatisfying.  The suspicious business deal seems fraudulent at first, but when Clari perceives it will extend the time that Zachary doesn’t have to go to public school, she’s all for it.  As for the alleged sexual shenanigans and their cover-up, Clari concludes it is all a shakedown by the so-called victims.

    Okay fine.  In the end a couple careers are ruined, a couple secrets are aired, but nothing morally or criminally wrong is uncovered.  Frankly, Clari comes off to me as a meddling b*tch, or , in the words of her son, "a shit disturber".

    5½ Stars.  As a piece of humorous commentary, Finding Clarity is an okay read, and that’s what I picked it up for.  Subtract  1½ stars if you were looking for a Janet Evanovich-type mystery.

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