Black Rose Writing

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By Julie Wittes Schlack

IR Rating:
BURNING AND DODGING, Julie Wittes Schlack's intoxicating literary novel, uses poignant, conversational dialogue to elevate sophisticated discourse on the nature of truth, whether unbiased or not, in journalism and art.
IR Approved
An artist joins an elderly journalist in the last year of his life to assist him with his memoirs, but she finds decades-long mysteries she can’t help but investigate, as well.

In 2011, at age fifty-nine, Tina Gabler feels she still has so much left unaccomplished in her life. When her partner of ten years, Carl, takes a year-long job in Spain, she decides not to go with him but instead to take a posting at the home of Peter Bright, an octogenarian retired journalist whose career Tina is excited to delve into as he would like to soon publish a memoir. With the help of Peter’s aide, Jean-Pierre, Tina digs through Peter’s work, and she is intrigued by photos and letters that reveal secrets both from Peter’s life and from history. Her journey through co-writing Peter’s memoir in the last year of his life reminds Tina of her own troubling experiences as a youth in the 1960s and 70s, and while she hopes to help Peter reconcile with his past, she finds she has much to contend with in her own.

Sophisticated, immersive dialogue depicts lifelike yet poignant conversations imbued with meaning both subtle and overt. When Tina, Peter, and Jean-Pierre discuss an array of photographs of Jewish ghettos in the 1930s, the language they use shows their depth of thoughts and reflects their personal experiences. While Peter defends the sanctity of unadulterated photography as an art-form, Jean-Pierre argues that photojournalism as activism is more important, and Tina stands somewhere in the middle, claiming that the purpose of photography is ever changing and is tied to the social landscape of the world. These positions, among others, draw forward character development while also pushing the plot of Julie Wittes Schlack’s BURNING AND DODGING into sometimes unexpected but always enlightening arenas.

Schlack’s dialogue does not shy away from realistic awkward pauses or conversational missteps. Too, Tina is by no means a flawless protagonist. Surges of emotion overtake her, which she sometimes recognizes and apologizes for, and she has a hard time keeping her personal or political agenda out of business. Her dynamic nature makes her a relatable and likable center character whose journey over the course of the book is as engaging as it is thought-provoking. Flashbacks do more to develop character than they do to propel the book’s present-day (2011) plot. Rich detail helps with worldbuilding and exploring Tina’s past, but some scenes feel extraneous and lack connection to her immediate concerns with Peter and Carl. Vivid and eloquent literary language shapes Tina’s inner world while describing the physical world in which she and the other characters exist. A “dithery” webcam shows Tina’s reticence in speaking to an individual who is more annoyed by than interested in their conversation. Over the course of the book, “as Peter’s stamina flagged, his sense of urgency mounted,” mirroring Tina’s descent into the heart of the mysteries she attempts to solve. Schlack’s decisive and affecting language probes the depths of the themes interwoven throughout. The nature of truth in the media we use to attempt to convey it, the capacity of some to forgive while others remain staid in their sense of morality—the book broaches these heavy topics to show that even in an entire lifetime, we may never know the answers.

BURNING AND DODGING, Julie Wittes Schlack’s intoxicating literary novel, uses poignant, conversational dialogue to elevate sophisticated discourse on the nature of truth, whether unbiased or not, in journalism and art.

~Aimee Jodoin for IndieReader

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