Five reasons for my 5-star review of Cinthia Ritchie’s Dolls Behaving Badly published February 2013 by Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Actually, I have more than five reasons, but I’ll stick to five for the purposes of keeping this blog post as short as possible. I wish I could invite you over for a book group discussion – because there’s so much to say about this book.
Be sure to click on Cinthia Ritchie’s Website to get a glimpse of some dolls doing some very bad things – hysterical! And please consider hitting one of the “share” buttons at the beginning and end of this post to share this book with your friends on social media. Much appreciated.
Five Reasons for my 5-Star Review
One: Best Cover
Of the 57 books I read in 2013, this was my #1 most favorite book cover. If it wasn’t my most favorite, it was definitely in the top three.
Loved the consistent use of the doll’s flesh tones as a background color, loved the control of light and soft edges. Loved the lowercase letters and rounded font used for the title. Loved the choice of pink and blue against the flesh tones to “pop” the text and make reference through color to the feminine and masculine – and I loved that the pink and blue were not your typical pink or blue. The pink is a contemporary shade that’s a bit edgy, hot, and ‘in your face’ like the erotic dolls the main character fashions at her kitchen table. The blue appears saturated by water and light, maybe from an ancient, mediterranean place – somewhere near sand – where Francisco, the anthropologist and love interest, might find bones. The book cover has a matte finish (my favorite type) and is soft and subtle to the touch – so comfortable in your hands it’s hard to resist the temptation to open the book and smell the pages. I liked carrying it around with me. It felt good in my hands and was enjoyable to hold as I read. And hey, that’s important. In this early age of ebooks, the tactile qualities of a physical book insure we’ll always have bookshelves filled with books.
Two: A Favorite Read
After 57 books, this book was also one of favorite reads in 2013. I enjoyed the writing and choice of words every bit as much as I enjoyed the character development and unfolding of events. There were lines in the book so “deep” and raw, I made my husband listen to them and one afternoon I read a bunch of marked pages aloud to my sister, a clinical psychologist, and the perfect reader for this book because the characters, especially Carla, are so messed-up but work hard trying to better their flawed set of circumstances. I know my sister would have a field day if all the character’s in Cinthia Ritchie’s book were called in for group therapy and I imagine the author “wrote deep” within the actual words and lines of her manuscript because many of the images, circumstances, and overarching questions posed in the book led you to think about the cultural and/or psychological underpinnings of the story. (e.g. Whether Carla views herself as sexually liberated in a world in which women model their behavior around the desires of men.)
Three: Favorite Setting
The story is set in Alaska and I’m crazy-obsessed with anything that has to do with Alaska. I watch all the shows about survival and homesteading in Alaska, and I hope to winter in Alaska at least once before I die. I have family that live in Alaska, but when we see each other it’s usually at a family gathering in the lower 48. Spending almost 350 pages in Alaska was wonderful.
I also really, really enjoyed having a single mother as a main character, a demographic I think is underrepresented in women’s fiction and I don’t know why. From this character I learned to always pursue my dreams and I think readers will enjoy the underlying message that you don’t have to be perfect to be loved.
Four: Authentically Flawed Characters
The characters are so utterly flawed and realistic you half expect them to walk off the page and take a bite of your sandwich. An eclectic ‘family’ is formed in the book with characters so unique and quirky, you’ll read because the character arcs are so interesting.
Carla is visited at odd times and in odd places by the ghost of her Polish grandmother, who typically leaves her with some advice and a recipe for Polish baked goods (the recipes are included in the book – love that – and whatever you do, don’t skip the instructions for baking). My three favorite recipes (you’ll know why): Gramma’s Communion Wafers from Chapter 12, Barry’s Peanut Butter Cookies from Chapter 14, and Gramma’s Chrusciki (Angel Wings) at the end of the book.
Francisco, an anthropologist, courts Carla by giving her ancient human bones. Bones. Hhmmm… What do they mean?
Carla, a painter, is haunted not only by her Gramma, but by a painting of a woman running with a box. What’s in the box? Why is she running? And why does Carla drill vaginas into dolls, turning them into erotic, often satirical art for an adult website? Is she making a statement about sex or using sex to make a statement?
Five, okay. There isn’t really a five. At least, if there was, it would probably contain spoilers so it’s best I not go there. Okay, okay, I changed my mind. Five: Favorite Take-Away from the Book: Gramma’s warning that “sins make you fat.” You’ll have to read the book to understand why this is so wise.
Next, a bit about Cinthia Ritchie, and a short excerpt from Chapter One.
About Cinthia Ritchie:
Cinthia Ritchie is a former journalist and Pushcart Prize nominee who lives and runs mountains in Alaska. She’s a recipient of two Rasmuson Individual Artist Awards, a Connie Boocheever Fellowship, residencies at Hedgebrook, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and Hidden River Arts, and the Brenda Ueland Prose Award, Memoir Prose Award, Sport Literate Essay Award, Northwest PEN Women Creative Nonfiction Award, Drexel Magazine Creative Nonfiction Award, Once Written Grand Prize Award and was named a Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Finalist.
Her work can be found in New York Times Magazine, Sport Literate, Water-Stone Review, Memoir, Under the Sun, Literary Mama, Slow Trains Literary Journal, Wicked Alice, Ghoti, Stirrings, Women of the Web Anthology, Nerve Cowboy, Conspire, Clean Sheets, International Journal of Erotica, 42opus, Little White Poetry Journal, damselfly press, The Boiler Journal, Miller’s Pond, Gloom Cupboard, Sugar Mule, Breadcrumbs and Scabs, Third Wednesday, Writer’s Digest, The Quivering Pen, 49 Writers, and over 25 other literary magazines and small presses. Look for her upcoming work in Evening Street Review, Cactus Heart Press, MARY: A Journal of Writing and Alaska Magazine.
(Source for this text: Cinthia Ritchie’s Author Page on Amazon.)
Excerpt: Here’s a sample of writing from chapter one:
Thursday, Sept. 15, 2006
This is my diary, my pathetic little conversation with myself. No doubt I will burn it halfway through. I’ve never been one to finish anything. Mother used to say this was because I was born during a full moon, but like everything she says, it doesn’t make a lick of sense.
It isn’t even the beginning of the year. Or even the month. It’s not even my birthday. I’m starting, typical of me, impulsively, in the middle of September. I’m starting with the facts.
I’m thirty-eight years old. I’ve slept with nineteen and a half men.
I live in Alaska, not the wild parts but smack in the middle of Anchorage, with the Walmart and Home Depot squatting over streets littered with moose poop.
I’m divorced. Last month my ex-husband paid child support in ptarmigan carcasses, those tiny bones snapping like fingers when I tried to eat them.
I have one son, age eight and already in fourth grade. He is gifted, his teachers gush, remarking how unusual it is for such a child to come out of such unique (meaning underprivileged, meaning single parent, meaning they don’t think I’m very smart) circumstances.
I work as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant. This is a step up: two years ago I was at Denny’s.
Yesterday, I was so worried about money I stayed home from work and tried to drown myself in the bathtub. I sank my head under the water and held my breath, but my face popped up in less than a minute. I tried a second time, but by then my heart wasn’t really in it so I got out, brushed the dog hair off the sofa and plopped down to watch Oprah.
Connect with Cinthia Ritchie:
Cinthia Ritchie’s Website: http://cinthiaritchie.com/
* You’ve gotta click on this website – hysterical images of dolls doing bad things!