Monday, July 29, 2013

Review of The Reluctant Blogger--by Ryan Rapier

If it was a movie it would be described as a dramedy—a drama and a comedy. Since it is a book I have to use different words to describe it: words like refreshing, enchanting, fun, poignant, hilarious, though-provoking, profound.

Ryan Rapier’s debut novel, The Reluctant Blogger, takes a candid look at Mormon life through the eyes of an active priesthood holder who is dealing with one heart-aching layer of life after another. The plot is braided together in so many ways it is impressive. Rapier has done a great job of bringing together the lives of the main characters. The author’s ability to also weave words into that glorious fabric is another big part of the charm of this novel.

Hero Todd Landry has lost his wife of fifteen years. Before he can heal from that loss he finds himself reluctantly blogging about his life and his loss. He also finds himself shopping at Wal-mart with a cart full of kids and potato chips, looking for the fastest check-out line.

“Regardless of a person’s ability to predict or prophesy,” Todd blogs, “choosing an express lane is always tricky business.....Crossing my fingers, I inhaled sharply and ventured forward. At first, things looked positive as my cart made steady progress toward the cashier. Then suddenly things came to a grinding halt. The individual two spots in front of me began to raise her voice regarding which brands should be included in the price match guarantee for whipped cream. Seriously?"

When I read that I wanted to shout out with Todd..."Seriously??!!! It's called an express lane for a reason! If you're going to argue over price matches, go to a regular line!"

In addition to Wal-Mart trips, Todd blogs about golf, Boy Scout paperwork, the calling of a bishop, making pies for Thanksgiving, and his own first attempt to enter back into the LDS dating scene. At his first Single Adult activity it doesn’t go well for Todd and his memories of high-school and college dating angst causes him to blog about what the Discovery Channel might have to say about LDS dating rituals. The hilarious script (complete with British accent) is right out of a nature documentary. (I had to wonder how many documentaries Ryan Rapier watched to perfect the wording! Nicely done, Ryan!)

After one particularly spontaneous decision the hero finds himself committed to date someone he loathes. Later he is bluntly asked, “Tell me, had you given any thought to asking this woman for a date prior to the moment you began to verbally vomit all over yourself in front of her?”

I LOVED the description of verbal vomit! I think we’ve all done that.

And there are unique, fun and enchanting descriptions on every page, like the time Rapier returns the novel’s momentum after an awkward silence. “Slowly, the noise level in the room returned to normal, like a 45-speed vinyl record starting up with the needle already in place”

And his description of Ms. Turcel is wonderful when Todd derisively blogs, “She’s the only woman I’ve met who clearly missed her calling in life as an IRS auditor.”

But there are also endearing moments through out the book as Todd struggles with the loss of his wife and how that affects every aspect of his life. Some of the fallout is deep and soul searching—like the time Todd blogs, “Up next is the ambivalence—the day when everyone’s life starts again and yours doesn’t.”

Other moments are light-hearted, like the night he tries to dress his youngest son for bed and places both of the boy’s feet into the same pajama bottom leg…three different times.

Though Todd blogs about the routine things in life there are also moments of deep, honest reflection. Slowly, Todd’s blogging helps him recognize that he needs to build a closer relationship with his domineering father, help his daughter Alex grieve, and repair a falling out with his best friend. Yet through all of his ups and downs and growing understanding, Todd still manages to painfully ignore the one good thing that has happened to him in the last eighteen months—Emily. Will he realize he also needs to heal the hurt he has caused her?

I found this book so engaging—from the writing style, to the plot and characters, to the way Rapier manages to get the reader laughing and reflecting tenderly on their own attitudes at the same time. When demands pulled me away from the book my thoughts reflected on his novel until I could return to its pages and even after I finished I found myself often thinking about the life issues handled by the author.

Though Todd faces plenty of diverse turmoil the humor and humanity on each page lightens the mood without detracting from the message. I loved a question posed toward the end of the book and I felt this question (which I’ve slightly reworded to avoid any spoilage of the story), really underscored every part of this novel. As Todd struggles with so many different things, one person lovingly asks, “What if this isn’t God’s test for him? What if it’s God’s test for us?” I think many problems in life faced by those we love are just that—tests for us more than for them.

Great job on a first novel, Ryan! I look forward to reading more of your wit and wisdom in the future.

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