Like every profession, book reviewing has its buzz words. To call a writer's book "a good read," or "a page turner" or "a romp" may sound like a compliment, but it's how reviewers tell the world that a book has more popular value than literary value, that prose is spun out fun, fine, bright and light as cotton candy.
One way a review puts a book down is to write "I couldn't put it down."Such attitudes are patronizing, of course, and basically condescend to writers who write for the popular market.
Writers like Carol Lynn Pearson, whose books always seem to hit a nerve or hit the heart.
With every new book, Pearson forces readers to re-think their image of her. She was once the Mormon Emily Dickinson, a spare, private poet writing memorable lines such as "We, who are seed of deity." That notion took a hard left turn after she released "Good-bye, I Love You," a book about her ex-husband dying of AIDS. Now, with publication of "One on the Seesaw: The Ups and Downs of a Single-Parent Family " (Random House; $15.95) we have a new Pearson to deal with: Carol Lynn Pearson the national caliber domestic humorist.
Undoubtedly there'll be more Carol Lynns as the years tick by.
"Yes, I can be rather complex," she says, "but then life is pretty complex. And I like to address myself to those complexities. I feel I'm a better writer now than I was in `Beginnings.' I have much more to say."
"Beginnings," of course, was the slight book of Pearson poetry that launched a thousand Christmas presents. Her gentle verse about womanhood and motherhood had many in the Mormon culture seeing her as a new Eliza R. Snow. But the book was both a springboard and a brick wall. Some started to see her as larger than life, as the embodiment of the wholesome, winsome female. She ended up on a pedestal.
That pedestal was rocked when she released "Good-bye, I Love You."
Her confessional memoir about her husband's wrenching struggle with sexual identity and AIDS hit many Mormon readers like a cup of ice water. Pearson had always written in a personal, almost whispering tone. But now the subject matter itself was personal. It was the stuff of private confession, many thought. And the book generated both fresh and heated air.
"Actually," Pearson says today, "I don't remember the controversy as much as I remember the warm way people responded to the story. I can't think of anyone who's come up to me personally to complain about the book."
Her latest book, "One on the Seesaw," is a follow-up volume to "Good-bye, I Love You." This is the Pearson family after the fall. Warm, spry, full of the "journal entry" observations and comic dialogue that characterize Pearson's less-heralded volumes, this new non-fiction effort attempts to show that, yes, there is life after death: someone else's death.
"The book is very much related to `Good-bye I Love You,' " she says. "It's my attempt at celebrating family. We see so many blended variations of families in America today. But whatever the shape of the family, I know if you scratch a happy one you find people dealing with problems they never thought they'd have to deal with. Rare are the families that don't eventually come up against real trials."
Pearson describes the book as an attempt to write something "nourishing without the sugar-coating." It also pushes the Pearson saga one more step down the line.
Can we expect another volume of the "Pearson Family Chronicles" in the future?
"I have half a dozen projects that I'm debating," she says, "but I'd rather not say anything about them right now."
Readers will have to wait and see.
But they should be prepared to change their concept of Carol Lynn Pearson. The one thing that never surprises her readers is her ability to surprise her readers.