Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns, by Elizabeth Leiknes - Review

What It's About
The premise of the book is that Lucy sort of accidently sells her soul to the devil in exchange for her sister's life. She writes a note addressed "To Whom It May Concern," promising that if her sister Ellen wakes up from a coma, Lucy will be "forever in your debt." Though the note is posted to a pretend mailbox, it is answered: "Dear Lucy: It's a deal."

Although nominally a paranormal story, the worldbuilding is not really the critical element here and accordingly, is sketchily-realized, and frankly doesn't make a lot of sense if you think about it too much. Basically, Lucy leads Bad People to their doom. They tend to show up at her house and are hospitably led to a portal to hell. Sometimes they get appetizers first. The CSI-type details are left to the Big Guy to manage. Presumably, the actual physical deaths take place some other way and Lucy's house is more metaphorical. Not so bad, right? I mean, they're clearly already evil. But there are also innocents, or at least Not-Bad People who occasionally fall through the portal in morally ambiguous collateral damage. Lucy's reaction is mild regret and "oh well," which doesn't entirely fit the good-girl-in-a-bad-situation profile that we are initially presented with.

Lucy herself is a great, layered character -- smart, funny & sexy but not doing so great on the love-life front (one of the downsides of the job). And who among us can't relate to the job from hell?

The thing about this book is, while on the surface it's a farcical romp with a sweet but predictable happily-ever-after, just underneath is a layer of ambiguity that occasionally pulls you up short and makes you go-- WAITAMINNIT! and question what you thought you knew about this poor innocent character, seeding doubt and suspicion in the reader's mind.

And isn't that a perfectly perfect thing for the devil to do? In a meta sort of way?

What Exactly Is It?

I rather suspect that Lucy isn't selling all that well.*

This is a book that doesn't really fit into genre descriptions very well. At 167 pages, published in a hardback format with a shiny, eye-catching dust-cover, it seems the publisher was going for mainstream fiction. It doesn't work as mass market romance or horror, in my opinion. I'm not really sure what the parameters are for chick-lit; it seems to me that other than the length it would probably fit best there.

It kind of begs the question: what is the right length for a book?

I'm sure that a purist would say, "there is no one right length."

As a reader though, with a limited budget for books, I tend to want a little more bang for my buck, particularly when I'm up in double-digit bucks. And I think this could have easily been a longer book. If I were Leiknes' agent -- or good friend-- I think I would have advised her to either look for a novella partner or two, or to flesh it out into a 350-page book.

I really do think this book also worked just the way it is, and if it were a romance proper, it could've fit nicely into a category format.

So where's the market for shorter fiction that isn't romance? Is it out there?

The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns is a quick, funny read with more going on than you might think. I recommend.

*Update: I just found out that this book is not released yet (due out next week), so I need to retract my thought about sales. I still rather question the format/positioning, but leaving that aside, it's definitely a fun little book. Leiknes is an author to watch.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Hmm - maybe the market just isn't in hardcovers, because that's not a format I'll take a chance on.


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