Lit Up

Jan 28, 2009 at 12:00 am

Dead Dancing Women
by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli
Midnight Ink, $13.95, 370 pp.

Michigan author Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli took the "write what you know" adage to heart when wrote the first book of her Emily Kincaid Mystery series, Dead Dancing Women.

The background of protagonist Emily Kincaid practically mirrors Buzzelli's own life: Like Buzzelli, Emily Kincaid is a former news writer in southeast Michigan who, after divorcing her husband, decides to pack up everything and move to remote northern Michigan to begin a career as a mystery writer. Hopefully, other than myriad, spot-on Michigan references and a desire to be the next Agatha Christie, the similarities end there.

As Emily, still consumed with thoughts of her philandering ex-husband, settles into her new, more peaceful life "Up North," her somewhat "city-girl superior" attitude to the "backwoods" mentality of Northern folk — "the busted couches sitting on their front porches, their pickups with full gun racks, and their groaning deer pole every November" — melts with each attempt at writing an original mystery.

Just when Emily is convinced she's destined for failure, her life takes a drastic turn when she finds a severed head in her trash can and is thrown, of course, into a real-life mystery, complete with a crabby sidekick, the dumpy Deputy Dolly.

Emily and Dolly make it their mission to crack the case as more body parts and bodies of elderly women pile up. Their only lead is that the women practiced Wicca rituals, something most locals laughed off as harmless. On their search for the killer, they're faced with adversity from tight-lipped locals as they rule out a list of eclectic suspects: Emily's skunk-skinnin' neighbor, a pastor who doesn't believe in books, the matronly owner of EATS, and nearly everyone else in town.

More Carolyn Keene than Agatha Christie, Buzzelli captures the quaint quirkiness of country folk with a not-so far-fetched twist on the things they'll do for money, or to escape the monotony and public solitude of country life. Dead Dancing Women left this writer reminiscing of mysteries read in her own childhood bedroom Up North.

by Penelope Przekop
Greenleaf Book Group, $14.95, 336 pp.

Never was a title so apt in correlation to a novel's theme than Penelope Przekop's debut Aberrations.

Przekop takes its definition to the extreme, going so far as to literally define the word in all its meanings and chronicling the "aberrations" affecting the somewhat fucked-up Angel Duet, a 21-year-old narcoleptic. Angel's world is muddied by not only her deep sleep, but also the picture-perfect "memories" her father shared of her mother, the cloud photographer whom Angel believes died while giving birth to her.

With the aid of medication that turns her into a "hyper turtle," Angel's life takes drastic turns as she begins to break out of her narcoleptic perma-slumber and awakens to the fact that things aren't always as they seem: Everyone has secrets.

As Angel is confronted with the secrets of those closest to her — her father, "the liar"; her newly found friends, Kimmy, Tim and Scarlett; and her "secret" lover, Mac — she realizes she's not the only one with something to hide: Kimmy's a 26-year-old virgin, Tim and Scarlett are gay; and tales of her mother are suspect.

Initially, Angel sees these revelations, as well as her narcolepsy and her affair with Mac, her "secret," as aberrations; however, as her friends begin to pull her from that sleepy shell, she quickly delves into the realms of acceptance.

While coming to identify her own "aberrations" and seeking the truth about her mother, Angel is exposed to the homosexual underground of the Deep South, self-medicates with Ecstasy, sees Scarlett as a mommy substitute after a brief lesbian fling and continues her adulterous affair with Mac.

Once realizing her dad lied about her mother's death — she's actually in an insane asylum and happened to be a somewhat surrealist photographer of clouds, all definitions of "aberration" — Angel finally comes into her own.

Some heavy stuff, sure, yet with all Przekop's scholarly intent — there are actually, laughably, reader notes and questions for book discussions, making one wonder about the audacity of Przekop (or her publisher) actually thinking her first novel shows literary merit — for the jaded, the "aberrations" in Aberrations, much like the book, are quite ordinary.

Christa Buchanan is a book critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]