Patchworks: A Book Review

by | Oct 2, 2017 | Articles | 0 comments

Today I woke to the all-too-familiar tragic news of yet another mass shooting. Sadly, we all know what will happen next: politicians will sputter, talking heads will bloviate, and the next thing that gets done about gun control will be – absolutely nothing.

Such is the subject of Ben East’s hard-edged new novel, Patchworks. The narrator, Gabriel “Gabe” Dunne, is a Washington, D.C. intern, stuck in a rather unglamorous position. Overly awed by his soon-to-be-married supervisor Chloe’s magnificent breasts, and sufferer of unrequited lust for a local divorcee named Darlene, Gabe is something of an enigma.

Interestingly, Gabe’s fellow characters often think of the archangel when they hear his name, though the messenger of God called Gabriel is traditionally a female angel. On the surface, Gabe seems to be the closest thing D.C. has to a Boy Scout. But his private thoughts, conveyed only to the reader, reveal him as a reluctant admirer of the casual playboy in the office, a rakish troglodyte with the oddly bookish name of Harcourt. Gabe describes Harcourt, perhaps ironically, as a born winner who “deserved to win.”

So is Gabe something of an angel, as his co-workers seem to see him? Or is he just another self-deluded do-gooder, a prototypical unreliable narrator with a powerful lust for heavy-bosomed women…women like Chloe, whom he sees as a “blonde sweetheart posing as professional?”

Unfortunately, there’s the rub: Gabriel goes on an admirable, utterly quixotic campaign against the NRA, but even that feeble attempt to break free from the shackles of the government “cube farm” seems motivated less by an angelic nature than by the tragic deaths of a colleague’s children in a school shooting. In other words, like Nancy Reagan with stem cell research or Dick Cheney with gay rights, it seems that Gabe becomes truly interested in a major issue like gun control only after it affects him personally.

The characters in Patchworks are almost universally conflicted, and although most of their conflicts are held at arm’s length from the reader – conveyed second-hand by the righteous Gabe – author East does a fine job of making them sympathetic. At worst, a few of them are ciphers; at best, the kind of characters one feels are true, but just as gloriously unknowable as our own friends and colleagues.

In that sense, Patchworks is something of a patchwork itself, like the shirt cobbled together by a school shooting victim’s father: admirably cobbling together the disparate stories of a motley bunch, connected through circumstance and the perhaps-unreliable point of view of an enigmatic narrator. Though it left me with mixed emotions, I can’t help but recommend it for these bleak times.

For more on East and his work, check out https://beneastbooks.com.

anti-vaxxer

Anti-Vaxxer Hysteria and the Mo-ron Contingent

I can’t help but wonder: what kind of idiot do you have to be to believe that Bill Gates has nothing better to do than follow you around while you schlep to Wal-Mart, pick up your dry cleaning, and eat the free breadsticks at Olive Garden? I've always got my cell...
meditation

Which Is Better For Writers – Meditation or Exercise?

A while back, I did an interview about creativity, and I talked about meditation and exercise. I also talked about a few other things like journaling, play, and being disciplined about a schedule.For writers, you might think meditation is going to be the number one...
authenticity

Putting Yourself Out There

I see a lot of social media posts these days about "authenticity." The idea is that clients and customers, and potential clients and customers, really appreciate your authenticity—mainly because so many fake people have tried to sell them something they didn't want to...
isolation

New “Writer Problems” Series, Topic #4: Isolation vs. Solitude

I’m a loner With a loner’s point of view —Bruce Cockburn, “Loner”   Writing a novel is a solitary activity. We all know this. And while there are some exceptions to the rule—screenwriters who work on a team in a “writer’s room,” partners who write a book...

Frustrated By the Publishing Process?

Beep. Beep. Beep. You wake up bright and early to the sound of the dreaded alarm clock. First thing, you brew some coffee and grab your computer. It’s a Thursday, so you have to go to work, but you feel compelled to start each day with a bit of writing. You also...
technophobe

The Technophobe Part 2: Why I Wish I Was Better At Some Of This Stuff

The last few weeks have been all about pros and cons. In June, I wrote several blog posts about my biggest strengths, and now I’m writing about some of my greatest challenges. So the two categories are, roughly, “Stuff I’m Good At” and “Stuff I Wish I Was Better At.”...
robot

When Will the Robot Overlords Replace Us?

I’ve been writing about machine learning and artificial intelligence quite a bit lately for work. Evidently, you can now use AI to organize all your files, create marketing and advertising, and perform repetitive accounting tasks. Oh, by the way: you can also use it...
post

Why Subscribe To A Blog?

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you probably know I post something new on my blog most Mondays. Or maybe you don’t know that at all. I’ll admit, I’m not exactly the greatest promoter of my own blog. When it comes to social media platforms like Twitter, I'm...
process

Create A Process That Works For YOU

This week’s topic: create a process that works for you. I can’t tell you how many times a fellow author’s quote has upset me for the simple reason that their opinion is presented as fact. Here are a few examples: “Write every day, line by line, page by page, hour by...
self-promotion

What’s The Problem With Shameless Self-Promotion?

While I still find it somewhat hard to believe, I've been on Twitter for almost eight years. I know this not only because Twitter shows Joined March 2015 on my profile but also because, even if they eliminate that feature, I use a tracker called Who Unfollowed Me? If...
MLK

MLK Day 2023

Here’s wishing everyone a safe, sane Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For many of us, today is always something of a day of mourning: not only mourning the loss of a great civil rights leader, but also mourning the turn our great nation seemed to take in recent years....

Twitter Tips for Authors in 2023

If you follow my blog, you probably connected with me via Twitter, whether you’re a fellow author or not. In 2020, I wrote a post about Twitter for fellow writers that got a good response. Three years later, the landscape has changed, but some Twitter best practices...
rails

Going Off The Rails (But Not On A Crazy Train)

Last April, I wrote a blog post called Back on Track With a Work-In-Progress. Part of that post was to talk about the difference between a “plotter” and a “pantser” (and to describe myself as a hybrid of the two, a “plantser”). Another, less obvious motive, was to...
French

Those Tricky French Authors and Their Obsessions

Today’s blog post was originally going to be Write Whatever the @#$% You Want, Pt. III. However, after seeing parts I and II lined up, I decided to call an audible and make it something less repetitive. Somehow the SEO gods have gotten into my head. As I’ve mentioned...
scared

Write Whatever the @#$% You Want, Pt. II

In last week’s post, I mentioned a pretty well-known author who has publicly reported his publisher “wouldn’t touch” a new release, in part because a character in his novel referred to herself as “fat.” I heard this story on a podcast, and I remember thinking, “Wait...
censorship

Write Whatever the @#$% You Want

I’ve been stewing on this for a while. It’s been brewing for quite a while. I could probably write a song about it (how about a rap?), but I don’t think I will. This is more of a blog post topic, and it might even deserve a series. And that’s the title and topic of...
gratitude

Should Every Month Be Gratitude Month?

When I was a kid, I loved Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. I read it daily and collected nearly every paperback volume of the cartoon, so I could see what I’d missed since the comic strip’s inception in 1950.  Certain things stuck: quotes like “happiness is a warm puppy”...
robot

More Thoughts On Robot Writers and The Tech Dystopia

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post here called When Will the Robot Overlords Replace Us? Apparently, I’m fairly obsessed with this stuff, because every time I come here and empty my brain, it seems to come up again. Today is no different. Part of the reason,...