Books

Book Review| Celia’s Puppies by Claudia Hall Christian

Title: Celia’s Puppies: Denver Cereal, Volume 2
Author: Claudia Hall Christian

My Review:

DAYTIME TELEVISION, make room!! This niche series needs a slot in your medium, now!

Celia’s Puppies opens with Chapter Twenty-Seven. This collection of episodes is the second volume of the printed version of Denver Cereal, a fiction series published on the Internet in daily installments. Volume 1, The Denver Cereal, and Volume 2, Celia’s Puppies, publish in book form Claudia Hall Christian’s serial tale of a large number of interconnected denizens of Denver, Colorado, and their ups and downs in life. It is a soap opera on paper.

The intertwined stories in this book describe the deeds and occasional misdeeds of a core group of characters, mainly attractive young men and women in their twenties and thirties. Their common thread is that they are lovingly haunted by Celia, the 9-years-deceased matriarch of the Marlowe clan of Denver. An important secondary group comprises the parents, children, and employees of the first. This heterogeneous bunch includes a gorgeous actress (on a soap opera!), a handsome and wealthy Cap’n Crunch-addicted construction company owner, a gay acupuncturist, a 3-year-old psychic/prodigy who is more articulate than most adults, an artistic and manly ex-Special Forces operative, and many, many more. While there are allusions to business troubles and a work-related scuffle or two, the vast majority of the book’s issues and interpersonal encounters revolve around love and romance, family relationships, weddings, and the struggle to find love and fulfillment in the midst of misunderstandings and worldly demands.

For the most part, apparently, we are not expected to take these struggles very seriously. Many of the characters have been given light-hearted names like Honey, Bambi, and Tiffanie. They’re all a little over-the-top in some way: the good guys seem close to perfection while the few villains are one-dimensional rotters. The characters crises arise seemingly out of nowhere, take the spotlight for a couple of chapters, get resolved, and then hardly are mentioned again. This format holds true whether the crisis involves snowed-in construction sites or being brought back from the brink a single second before death.

Meeting these characters for the first time in Chapter Twenty-Seven is like starting to watch a soap opera after it has been running for four or five years. Despite the one-page What’s Happened So Far? introduction, the reader is well into the book before the identities of and relationships among characters start to become clear. It’s perfectly possible to get through the entire book without really knowing all the players, and who is whose father or step-sister. The author has provided a Glossary of Characters, but it is tucked in at the end of the book, to be discovered by the reader only after its time of usefulness is past. The Glossary should be placed, or at least referenced, at the book’s beginning, to spare the reader the frustration of trying to sort out the tangled relationships of these very numerous characters while paying attention to the story. (Incidentally, the manuscript should have been proofread, not merely spell-checked, as it contains a number of errors that confuse and distract a reader already challenged by the clutter of characters and story lines.)

This book revolves around action and visual images, not ideas or emotions. The story is entertaining, but it belongs in a non-print medium. Do NOT expect this collection to flow like a novel! The length and pacing of the many lead-ups and resolutions, with little plot evolution or character development, ideally suit the installment structure of daytime “stories” (or an Internet serial posting), but make the story difficult to assimilate as a whole. This is The Young and the Restless, not Anna Karenina. Of course, Celia’s Puppies does not claim to be a novel and it should not be read with the expectations one might have for that more intricate, and intimate, story form. The book’s cover tries to convey this warning but, as the book is presented, only a foray into the pages can illustrate the distinction fully.

The format is far more appropriate to the screen, where actors expressions, gestures, and intonations can provide the missing emotional nuances and lend credibility and depth to the story lines. Having on-screen faces to match to characters names likewise would help to define who’s who. The content would do well as daytime escapism; perhaps less well as evening drama. Additionally, as there is no real plot to the volume named Celia’s Puppies (only a catalog of events which kinda-sorta lead to the final chapter’s action), adapting this series for television as opposed to presenting it as printed fiction would be much more flattering to the work itself. The main characters are wholesome, good-looking, and ethical, and there are some beautiful visual moments (like a cream-colored wedding) in Ms. Christian’s writing. TV viewers would get a real treat watching these images unfold, and it would be a pity if the virtues of this body of work were overlooked because readers (as opposed to viewers) do not have the patience or interest to navigate its shallower waters in book form.

Should you not wish to wait for The Denver Cereal to come to the small screen (and perhaps Ms. Christian will run with this suggestion), you can find this series at http://denvercereal.com/ and read it online. As of this writing, forty chapters have been added, beyond Celia’s Puppies. If you prefer to read the book(s), please, please read the volumes in order. Presumably the requisite character development and place setting took place in Volume One, so reading it first may be the only way to get the foundation you need for future volumes and ensure your enjoyment of the story(ies). Full of lively characters, pretty faces, and lots of hugs and kisses it may be, but Celia’s Puppies clearly is the middle of a series of episodes, not a stand-alone work of fiction.

Gratitude is due to the author, Claudia Hall Christian, for providing a review copy of this book.

This review reflects the tastes, perceptions, and opinions of one person only and may be entirely wrong from another person’s point of view. Please read the book yourself and decide.

Disclosure: I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a sample of the product for review purposes. The opinions are my own, based on my personal experience with the product.