Thursday, 23 October 2014

After The Sucker Punch: A Review

After The Sucker Punch (ATSP) is a fantastic novel. 

I'm writing this because I know most of my readers are always on the lookout for a good book - and ATSP is a very, very good book.

Lorraine Devon Wilke

The Context

I met the novel's author, Lorraine Devon Wilke, two weeks ago through a lovely friend of mine, Orange County's Brenda Perlin. 

A resident of LA, Lorraine came around the interview Cauldron to widen her exposure to a UK audience. 

Out of respect, Lorraine made a gift to me of both her novel and short story "She Tumbled Down" and while I loved the short story, the novel is something else entirely.

An Indie novel, it is definitely in the top ten of the books (Trad or Indie), I have read (which is a fair number) since I started Green Wizard. 

After reading twelve chapters on Kindle, I immediately logged on to Amazon and like some literary Victor Kiam, I bought the paperback. 

I am glad I did. It is a magnificent paperback indeed.

UK readers buy here

US/.com readers buy here

The Paperback

I teach the odd hour of Creative Writing and Self Publishing, and last night, I took the paperback of ATSP to our latest group to demonstrate how to structure dialogue . 

The group I teach are professionals, experienced diarists, bloggers, report writers who wish to learn about e-publishing and between them, they read 100-200 books a year. 

Not one of them could tell that this was a self-published book. 

Printed by Createspace and professionally edited, it is a beautiful piece of work to hold in your hand. ATSP  would not be out of place in Waterstones, (and, without getting political, it makes a total nonsense of the idea that self-published work is somehow inferior. Saying so would be an insult to this novel and its creative team).

The Review

ATSP is a family saga. Tessa, a dreamy, thirty-something, sometime artist/writer/drifter with aspirations to something better than her current humdrum life, attends the funeral of her father, Leo. 

After the Wake, and while staying at her mother's house, she reads one of his many journals. 

What Leo wrote is so shocking, it changes Tessa's life and the lives of everyone in her extended family. 

Four factors mark Lorraine's brilliant debut as something special.  

Firstly, her characters. Each so individual, so distinctive and so well defined, you can tell who is talking without the character being named. That's no mean feat. Secondly, the dialogue is crisp, sassy and real, patter so realistic, you can hear it taking place. Thirdly, the way Lorraine links and merges the historical comments Tessa reads in the journal into the real time narrative is shrewd and repays rereading.  

Then, finally, there is Tessa herself, the novel's protagonist. You may not like her - two days after completing the novel, I am completely ambivalent about her*  - but she is real and you can follow her train of reasoning at all times. 

None of her behaviour is extranormal and you can imagine doing the same things she does (and that's not a necessarily recommendation). 

You watch her progress and change. You understand her one minute, then you can't comprehend what she's up to the next. Then immediately after, you want to reach into the pages of the book and wag your finger at her. You live her deliberations and you can feel her confusion on your fingertips as you turn the page. 

At no time does Tessa lapse into stereotype. She constantly surprises you and - whether you like her or not, you cannot stop following her trials and tribulations for a second.

The supporting cast is excellent. Her family, particularly the harassed Micheala, and the alcoholic brother, Ronnie, are similarly absorbing. Tessa's long suffering boyfriend, the corporate sportswear schill David, struggles manfully to accommodate Tessa's whys and wherefores before being completely overwhelmed by them in some of the novel's saddest scenes.

Her relationship with best friends Katie and Ruby would satisfy any fan of chicklit, (and I quite fancied the hapless, heartbroken Ruby, in a Sir Lancelot kind of way), but it is Aunt Joanne who steals the show. 

The Catholic Nun-cum-Therapist helps Tessa deal with the aftermath of the revelations unleashed by Leo's journal and becomes by far the strongest foil for her increasingly self-destructive angst. 

You long for her to reappear in the narrative - perhaps because she is the only person strong enough - and brave enough - to confront Tessa, whose self-absorption is relentless.

Contemporary Drama

Like the best contemporary fiction, nothing extraordinary happens. 

People talk on the telephone (which happens a lot in this novel). Conversations take place in cars, in coffee bars, around the water cooler, on sofas, in the still life of the marital bed, the post-coital cigarette smoke still swirling between the blades of the fan rotating overhead. 

There is virtually no action - just like real life

The sheer joy of the ATSP is its very ordinariness. These are ordinary people going about their business, all of them affected to one degree or another by the portentous, unhinged rantings of Leo Curzio. 

The richness of the everyday needs no explosions, because the revelations are the explosions. 

A Christmas Conclusion

If you like contemporary work, I strongly recommend After The Sucker Punch

Forget the e-book for once:Treat yourself to an early Christmas present and buy the paperback for seven quid or so. It is lustrous, with its cream pages, one and a half line spacing and comforting, airport-shelf heft. 

It is a book which is written for paperback and meant to be read in bed; absorbed, over time, savoured by lamplight. 

Lorraine's Interview Around the Cauldron

UK readers buy ATSP here

US/.com readers buy ATSP here

*Maybe its a man thing :D

Incidentally, if you are short of a blog post, or pushed for time, please feel free to scrape this, as long as you acknowledge the source. This book deserves wider coverage than I can give it. Thanks.


  1. Wiz: I am grateful for your readership, your support and your beautifully written review of my book. There is truly nothing better for a writer than to discover that someone not only enjoyed the read, but got the more underlying, foundational themes woven in between the lines! Thank you... your support of writers in general is quite something.

  2. Wow!! What a review - you're quite right Mark I need to move this up my TBR list :-) Looking forward to it!

  3. Sounds great - already written it on the TBR list :)