Friday, June 1, 2007

Pressed Pennies

Pressed Pennies
Written by Steven Manchester
Sunpiper Media Publishing
Reviewed by Nancy L. Horner

Like time itself, the returning surf erased any evidence of their existence, wiping them from the great blackboard of life. One shake of the giant Etch-a-Sketch and it was over. The winds whipped across the open unobstructed landscape in a raw and powerful display. On the flat horizon, like a giant red marble, the sun sat quietly and gazed into the invisible world beneath the ocean. The entire picture was mysterious, dangerous - serene.

Pressed Pennies is the love story of Abby and Richard. As children growing up in the 1970s, Abby and Richard live next door to each other. Abby, the daughter of an abusive alcoholic father, finds escape in her daily routine with the neighborhood “gang” and her deep friendship with Richard. When Richard’s family is forced to move, they lose touch but never forget their childhood love. Many years later, Abby and her daughter begin a new life after her husband begins to drink heavily and lash out at his family. New neighbors introduce her to Rick, the man she once knew as “Richard”, her childhood love. The attraction is immediate, but there are complications. Abby is uncertain that she’s prepared to love, again; and, her daughter Paige is angry and bitter about the new man in her mother’s life. Richard is wildly in love and must work to convince both Abby and Paige that he belongs in their lives and hearts.

It was actually quite simple. To give Abby everything, he only had to give himself. He only had to treat her as though she were the only woman who had ever - and would ever - walk the earth. That was all.

I truly believe that author Steven Manchester has his heart in the right place. On the cover is a quote: “Whether we believe it or not, we’re all connected.” Evidently, that was Manchester’s chosen theme. Given the storyline, however, it makes little sense. Because the quote is prominently located on the book’s cover, I found myself searching for scenes indicative of thematic interconnectedness and still came up empty-handed.

The comparison to Nicholas Sparks in promotional material should have been warning enough for me; I find Sparks’s writing amateur and forced. Unfortunately, I felt exactly the same way while reading Pressed Pennies. The urge to break out a red pen and scratch through repetitive sentences, note scenes in which the characters became shadows of each other rather than unique individuals, and mark through the many misspellings and grammatical errors was overwhelming. Not one but three male characters write poetry in the book. One uses his poetry to convince a woman who thinks men “only want one thing” that his blatant references to sex are romantic.

What Manchester lacks is the skill to express his convictions with subtlety and power. Moments that are intended to be revealing or moving come off as predictable and trite, often preachy to the point that this reader felt like saying, “Put down the hammer, honey; you don’t have to nail your beliefs into my head.”

Of greatest concern to me was the heroine’s stupidity when dealing with her intoxicated husband. In at least two scenes, Abby’s ex drove to her home drunken and staggering. Instead of sensibly rushing to call authorities or attempting to prevent her ex-husband from returning to the road by blocking him or stealing his keys, Abby (and, in one scene, Rick) did nothing, repeat nothing to attempt to keep a man she knew to be thoroughly plastered off the road. Yes, Pressed Pennies is fiction; but, in the same way that it is irresponsible to let someone climb behind the wheel of an automobile in real life, it is equally irresponsible for an author to write such a scene without injecting even a passing thought about the safety of people on the road into the minds of protagonists.

I can’t recommend Pressed Pennies; however, fans of Nicholas Sparks may, indeed, find it palatable. Those whose inner editors are difficult to squelch should give the book a wide berth.

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