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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Super début

September 1st, 2015

BT TERRY ROSS

Belshangles
by Susan Altstatt
Fithian Press, 2015

Fourteen-year-old Miranda “Andy” Falconer is a wonderful creation. Intellectual and intelligent, she’s also resourceful as hell and wise beyond her years. In serious teen-aged love with rock star Tommi Rhymer of the band Belshangles, she contrives, on the spur of the moment, to kidnap her beloved after a concert and keep him captive for two weeks in a remote mountain cabin so that he can break his heroine addiction.

Susan Altstatt’s book — it was a semi-finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards — is the story of this unlikely but crazily believable abduction. Along the way, poor Andy has to carry her hero, who has passed out, into the cabin, and then, when he wakes up, withstand his wrath and physical violence, outrun him when he tries to escape, see that he is fed and kept warm, and generally cope with his drug withdrawal, which takes more than a week.

This is Altstatt’s first novel, but you’d never suspect it from the writing, which is assured, almost cocky in its confidence. Both of the main characters are fully drawn and full of surprises. Rock star Tommi, although glamorous and scarcely educated, is intelligent, thoughtful, and articulate, and the ancillary dramatis personæ — Andy’s mother and father, her friend Skye, Tommi’s partner Harlan — make brief but vivid appearances. The plot unspools in conventional chronological order, and glimpses of the pasts of both characters are smoothly integrated. There’s not a bit of awkwardness in the showing or telling anywhere; this is an almost absurdly well-written first novel (or second or third, for that matter).

You would also not guess that although her main characters are a female adolescent and a youthful man, Altstatt is no youngster herself. Other authors have gotten themselves into print for the first time when older, but I doubt if any seventy-five-year-old has produced a better first effort than Belshangles, especially one incorporating a good deal of pungent rock ‘n’ roll history. An accomplished painter and theater set designer, Altstatt is also a profound medieval scholar and a devout Catholic, a trait that she shares with Andy, who is fond of muttering Latin prayers to herself in moments of stress. Now Altstatt can add “novelist” to her many hats.

Belshangles is a page-turner, too, as we live every suspenseful moment inside Andy’s consciousness. I won’t spoil the ending for you except to say that when all is done, Andy still loves Tommi. And so do we. But our chief affection is for this brilliantly portrayed girl, who has taken her rightful place among the memorable protagonists of fiction.

Belshangles can be ordered through independent bookstores, through Amazon and other online book dealers, or directly from the publishers at 800-662-8351. I am reliably informed that a sequel has already been written, which would be the second book of a projected trilogy. Let us hope that some smart literary agent will read Belshangles and see to it that Susan Alstatt finds a big-name publisher and a reasonable advance for her next book. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Ross | Link to this Entry

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