With a dozen books on my required reading list for this first semester in my low-residency MFA program, I knew, at least until May, I would not be buying any new novels, and if I did fall to temptation and purchase some commercially delicious paperback from the $5 rack at Sam’s Club or a highly praised legal thriller from B&N, I would just have to leave it be on the night stand until the semester’s reading was complete.
So why have I broken from my school work only to read my most recently purchased literary gem, The Man From Primrose Lane? I’d like to say that the half dozen sparkling reviews I read online prompted me to take to reading this first novel by James Renner, but I know better than to be sucked in by bloggers that sizzle and creatively praise the newest releases. I have school, and I have my priorities. So it must have been the genre bending synopsis; gritty crime fiction meets suspense/mystery meets sci-fi with a creep factor of early Stephen King. Irresistible? For many, yes, but not me. Summer is right around the corner and even for this mind-blowing and originally crafted plot, I could have waited for the lounge chair and ninety degree heat.
The only reason I am reading Primrose and reading it right NOW is because when I first became aware of this novel, Renner’s wife asked him not to share it with me.
Mrs. Renner, a sweet, kind, creative, and funny music teacher from Ohio happens to be my wife’s cousin. This is how I know James. In the ten years I’ve known him and chatted with him at yearly family gatherings, he’s been writing. For a long time he made his living as a pot-stirring Cleveland journalist. His talent for investigative reporting led to him to write two true crime books that were well-received by their regional audience. When he finally got around to writing this novel, I happened to be discovering my own passion for writing fiction. Having published The Ball Player and found 1,000 readers to buy it, I was confidently packing a new composition that I was ready to shop to agents and publishers.
I was thrilled to find another writer (in the family) that was in a similar position as me. James and I commiserated about the querying process and how it can be a drag before I finally said the obvious, “Send your book to me. I’d love to read it. And if you want to look at mine, I’d love to hear your thoughts.”
“I can’t,” was his reply.
He explained to me that his wife was not comfortable with the family reading his novel , so he could not send it to me.
“But you’re trying to get it published?”
I let it go… sort of.
A few weeks later James emailed me and let me know he had found an agent and that she had two publishers lining up to buy the book. I was thrilled, then jealous. I was pumped, then pissed. I had suffered 40 rejections with The Ball Player before finding an agent that took the manuscript to only a couple publishing houses only to be turned away and eventually tell me my book wasn’t good enough in its current form. My recently finished novel was currently out to a dozen agents and the ‘no thank you’s’ were already piling up in my inbox.
Of course the only thing that would have really put me at peace with James’s success would have been to read the book and discover that, yes he had written a damn good novel, and there was plenty of reason why his talent was in high demand.
I’m not sure if it was only three emails and then a phone call, but regardless of how I asked, James would not let me read The Man From Primrose Lane per his wife’s instructions (or so he claimed).
“It’s going to be published in a year!” I almost shouted in disbelief.
I guess I can give a guy credit for staying true to his wife’s request, but the result was my wife having to endure a profanity laden tirade about how I was the one person that would really benefit from reading this novel. How could he keep this from me. Not only was I a fellow writer and friend, but I was a member of the family. The rejections to my own work were like bamboo sticks shoved beneath my fingernails and by reading his novel, I could possibly gain perspective, realize what I was doing wrong or figure out why my writing was not resonating with the gate keepers of the publishing industry. One simple attachment to an email could have eased the pain.
James would eventually send me the prologue, which was tight and professional, and creepy as hell, but if I wanted to read The Man From Primrose Lane in its entirety, I would have to wait for its eventual release.
And that day has arrived.
The story might end here with me, book in hand, giddy to devour this forbidden fruit. But alas it takes more than curiosity to pull me away from my studies. I would not be reading this new novel had I not recently shared one of my own recently crafted short stories with my wife. (I would still write if she were my only audience). She was impressed with the writing and moved by the content, yet disturbed to feel threads of reality braided into my imaginative tale.
My wife’s response was, “I now know why she didn’t want you to read James’s novel.”
Great fiction might be the result of memory and imagination constantly feeding on the each other while sharing the same space inside a writer’s head. These two very distinct thought processes will meld together and if allowed to find the page as one cohesive idea can produce the kind of emotion that is not easily shaken.
So I am stopping everything to read The Man From Primrose Lane not because of mere curiosity, but because the author’s wife’s reaction to it assures me that whether I love this book or not, I will most likely be experiencing a visceral composition pulled from the soul signed with the author’s blood.