Read These Novels for Free

Novels Serialized on Writer/Critic Available in Their Entirety

Over the past couple of years, we’ve serialized four different novels, and now instead of waiting for a weekly installment, you can read the complete novel whenever you want.

The Inside-Out Woman is a psychological thriller. A woman who had a leading role in a religious cult physically escapes the charismatic leader before he initiates a mass suicide. She starts a new life as a married woman with children in Indiana. However, she can’t escape the cult and the leader who lives in her mind almost as a real person. One day in June, with a tornado approaching, she finds herself battling with the leader for the very lives of her children and husband. Find it here next week in its entirety.

Behind Lori Baer, another psychological thriller, tells the story of Lori Baer who brings death to whomever she forms a close relationship. When her husband, a prominent Chicago businessman, turns up dead, his friend and business associate decides to play detective and find the killer. Gabe Angellini is a retired ad man in his fifties and his father-in-law a retired Chicago cop who runs his own security agency. Together, they set out to find an elusive killer, putting their own lives, and those of their family, in grave danger. They discover that Lori Baer is a woman with a complicated past and the killer almost a ghost. Find it here in April in its entirety.

Secrets of the Lottery Winner tells the story of how winning a small fortune transforms a man into the dynamic business leader he always dreamed he might be. Gari Garibaldi, feeling he has nothing to lose now that he is a millionaire, exerts himself at his small ad agency and discovers a business genius lurking within himself. But success proves a bit trying for Gari. He drops the reins of his life, involving himself in an affair, getting kidnapped by Caribbean revolutionaries, and producing a movie. And then his real problems begin. Find it here in May in its entirety.

Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce opens with a young woman seemingly in the throes of a bizarre hallucination. She unreels her life from present to past in order to understand what might be happening to her. She remembers her husband, the disintegration of  their marriage, her attempt at divorcing him, as well as how they met, and his annoying friend who struck her as dangerous, almost from the beginning back in their hometown. Find it here in June in its entirety.

After each novel appears, you will always be able to find a link to here in a Monday post.

Enjoy. w/c


Women’s Fate under Pro-Life

Red Clocks

By Leni Zumas

Leni Zumas uses the Personhood Amendment as the impetus for her novel about the lives of four disparate women, plus a fictional 19th century historical figure, to illustrate in dramatic fashion the constraints under which many women struggle now and perhaps in the near future if certain zealots get their way. She further emphasizes her points by compartmentalizing these women by their primary roles: The Biographer, The Wife, The Daughter, and The Mender. The historical figure, an ambitious woman who doesn’t hew to the societal demands of her time, is simply a woman, itself, when you view the novel this way, a restrictive compartment.

The novel follows the lives of these women living in a small Oregon coastal fishing town, including how they interact with each other. The Biographer, Ro, researches and writes a biography of 19th century Arctic explorer Eivør Mínervudottir, teaches at the local high school, and tries via IVF to have a baby before her biological clock and a new law sounds expiration. The Wife, Susan, raises two children as she suffocates in her marriage to her teacher husband, who seems indifferent to her and certainly self-absorbed. The Daughter, Mattie, an adopted child, finds herself pregnant and desperate, as abortions have been outlawed and harming a fetus in anyway is a crime. The Mender, Gin, a young crone of sorts, lives in the woods, prefers the company of her animals to humans, and sells herbal remedies to townspeople. And Eivør forms something of an intermezzo between chapters not only adding a note of emphasis to the issues faced by the characters but also reminding us that severely restricting women to certain accepted roles has always been the norm.

These women prove complex, more expansive than their definitions, but also squarely within them as well. Ro nearly impoverishes herself trying to become pregnant but puts aside her desires to help, though not without much inner torment, Mattie resolve her unwanted pregnancy. Susan struggles to exit her marriage and builds up lots of resentment toward Ro, who she views as free, though Ro resents Susan partly because she has what Ro desires. Gin, for her part, can’t help but be involved with others in town, regardless of how much she wishes most to be left alone.

Hanging over all of them and affecting them in different ways is the Personhood Amendment, which steals control of their lives from them and imposes potentially severe punishments and restrictions upon them. This, for those not familiar, for in fact it is a real proposal pushed by some antiabortion groups, declares life begins at conception, triggering a whole laundry list of laws, among them murder for abortions, no contraception, and more. In the novel, this is coupled with it being illegal to go to Canada for an abortion, as you will be turned away, even arrested, at the “Pink Wall,” the requirement of two, a man and woman, as parents, and the impending end to IVF. Since all these currently don’t exist but could if some had their way, the novel has the flavor of a dystopian future.

Some may find the novel’s flow a bit disjointed and the writing a little showy, while others may not think it dystopian enough in the sense of being technologically removed from our time. But for others interested in how society works, and can work even harder, to mold women to limited expectations, the novel will resonate. w/c

The Land of Abused Women and Children

Gather the Daughters

By Jennie Melamed

Jennie Melamed’s debut novel Gather the Daughters could not be more timely as it comes on the heels of the #MeToo movement, the Weinstein case, and a U.S. president with a history of abusing women, not to mention supporting others doing the same. In Melamed’s novel, the abuse begins early, with the male members of her fictional patriarchal religious cult having sex with their daughters prior to puberty, before turning these children over to other men for marriage and child bearing shortly after puberty. All this is done in the service of escaping and living free of what they call “the wasteland,” that is, our modern world, and perpetuating an isolated primitive agrarian and tradesman barter society. This cult featuring sexual abuse is not without real life precedent. One has only to recall some recent infamous examples, among them David Berg’s Children of God, David Koresh’s Branch Davidians, and Warren Jeffs’ Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Melamed paints the full picture of her fictional patriarchal cult through the eyes of a handful of girls on the verge of puberty. Janey proves the most rebellious. She is older then the others, slowly starving herself like an anorexia to forestall her puberty. She doesn’t want to end up like the other girls, married off immediately after puberty in what’s called the summer of fruition. These married off girls begin having babies immediately, though by the law of the religion they can only have two healthy children. That means they are mothers and women of the community when they are thirteen or so. Their mothers, then, are women in their mid to late twenties. There are no grandparents, because once people reach the end of their usefulness, they drink the draft and take their place buried in the fields. Janey leads the girls in a rebellion, which consists of leaving their homes, living on the beach, and foraging for their existence. Obviously, as the leaders, called Wanders (those who travel off the island for needed supplies), know this cannot go on forever. Vanessa is another girl with her doubts and own quieter rebellious tendency. Her father is one of the Wanders and, unlike his counterparts, is thoughtful and kind. You might even like him, if you can put out of your mind that he sleeps with his daughter. Crisis arrives in the form of a contagious illness that sweeps through this society, killing many, necessitating that the wanders seek new members from the outside. In some ways, the illness proves fortuitous, as all the island inbreeding has resulted in increasing defective birth.

What you have here are men exerting absolute control over women and children by isolating them, instilling discipline and fear by tailoring a religion to their desire, and by engaging in acts of abuse, rape, pedophilia, and murder. It’s not a pretty tale, but some may regard it as an exaggerated metaphor of how men have treated women over the ages. Pastor Saul sums up matters nicely after the great bout with disease and the restocking of the island with new recruits in his sermon, attributing the suffering to disobeying the ancestors:

“As I look upon us, I can see the reasons for their displeasure. We have strayed from them. We have strayed from their vision and their holiness. We clot up the minds of our daughters with useless knowledge, instead of taking the precious time to teach them to be a solace to their fathers. Wives have forgotten how to be a support to their husbands. We let our aged live too long, past their prime years, for the simple reason that our hearts are soft. Men are swayed by the words of women, by the words of wives and daughters who refuse to submit to their will as wives and daughters should.”

Well done about a world rational people would run screaming from. And, yet, these little worlds in degrees exist today. w/c

For People Too Hard on Themselves


By Andrew Sean Greer

Andrew Sean Greer’s peripatetic contemplation on love and self-worth is a pleasant and often lyrical experience. The Less of the title is one Arthur Less, the author of several lesser works, and himself a self-deprecating fellow. The novel follows him as he travels the world to lesser award presentations, lecture gigs, and retreats to redraft his latest novel that his long time publisher has rejected. His impetus for leaving is that his younger lover, Freddy Pelu, has left him for another man whom Freddy is about to marry; yet another indignity and punishment the world has inflicted on him. If there’s a literary conceit here it is that while Arthur things little of himself, believes that the world continually catches him in traps designed to pummel him with failure, the opposite appears to be true; that many do like him as a man, respect him as a writer (just not a loyal gay writer), and love him enough to give up other lovers and husbands for him. If we can find a lesson here, perhaps it is that we shouldn’t be quite as down on ourselves as some of us tend to be; that, really, we probably are better people than we give ourselves credit for being.

Greer possesses a skillful style that floats the story along and engages the reader. Even when not much happens, the little bit happens with charm. Greer’s also a keen observer of people, in particular people many readers probably don’t encounter much in their own lives. These are people steeped in the art of thinking about themselves, those around them, and translating their observations into essays, novels, and poems we read to sharpen our own insights not only into the workings of the world but ourselves as well. Greer has created a charming voice for the narrator. The narrator knows Arthur intimately, in fact, better than Arthur seems to know himself. Most readers will soon enough figure out who is telling the story of Arthur’s loves and writings and bouts with angst, but even so it’s pleasantly and warmly rewarding when that narrator steps from the shadows.

So, if you’re in the mood for a charming, witty, and insightful trip around the world that includes San Francisco, Mexico, Italy, Germany, France, Morocco, and India (containing some of the best passages in the novel), climb on board Less. w/c

Eternal Life Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Eternal Life

By Dara Horn

In some ways, our lengthened life spans would seem miraculous or magical to people of the 1st century, when Dara Horn’s main characters Rachel, daughter of a scribe, and Elazar, son of a high priest, were born. So, you might suppose, it is only fitting that we look on the never-ending lives of Rachel and Elazar with not a little touch of envy. Yet, as Horn illustrates, outliving everybody you ever knew and loved not just once or twice but time and time again takes its toll. Each passing year becomes more difficult and modern times even make restarting your life, as you must, more challenging. But more important, if you live and love, as Rachel does, you open yourself up to endless heartache. If you choose to distance yourself from your loves and family, as Elazar does to a large degree, your lives can feel empty. So, then, what appears as a blessing, as a wonderful miracle, turns out to be a curse. Of course, if everybody shared eternal life, well, that might be a different story, one, doubtless, fraught with its own plusses and minuses.

Rachel and Elazar are born and live their original lives during the days of the First Jewish-Roman War era (66-73 CE). They meet, fall in love, have sex, and Rachel becomes pregnant. She marries Zakkai, a boy indentured to her scribe father, who himself learns the scribing trade. She has the baby, a boy she names Yochanan. He becomes deathly ill. Elazar, his secret father, proposes a way to save him: take a sacred vow of eternal life. They both do. Yochanan lives. He grows to become a great teacher (he’s a real historical figure) who preserves the oral word of the Torah (redacted later in the written Mishnah) after the destruction of the Temple Mount by Titus and his Roman troops. As a result of their vows, Rachel and Elazar find themselves condemned to eternal life that includes an eternity of memories (like the siege and destruction of Jerusalem) that both must deal with, well, forever.

The novel focuses on the 21st century Rachel, an eighty-four year old, who doesn’t look her age and her meeting up with Elazar. He loves her and for him she is the only woman in the world, regardless of the century. She has conflicted feelings for him, in the extremes, uncontrollable passion and hatred, the latter for things Elazar did in their past. At eighty-four, she is at the end of her lifetime with her latest family. She must leave, but she can’t seem to. Her one great desire, shared, by Elazar, is death. And in her granddaughter, a biochemical researcher, she thinks she might have found the answer to ending her life.

Horn tells the tale succinctly, but some readers may sense a vagueness in how Rachel and Elazar pull off moving from life to life, or living those lives without folks becoming suspicious, especially when they advance in age. It’s a book for those who enjoy fantasy and who are comfortable with magical thinking. w/c

Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 12: CRANBURY, NEW JERSEY  (Part 10, 11, and 12)


I’m on the road to the East Windsor YMCA. I’m concentrating on driving, pushing away the boy’s smile and memory. I focus on the roadside book of garbage I’ve read hundreds of times—markers, ads, signs, bits of litter. Slowly the smile fades away and I’m speculating as to why people must litter, why a clean car is more important than a clean road, as I pull into the Y’s parking lot. And that leads me to Richard, a prime violator.


I was composed and arranged by the time I reached home. I went directly to my room, saying nothing about the incident, or anything else, to my mother. Bobby frightened me and I didn’t doubt he was willing and capable of hurting me if I told on him. But fear wasn’t what stopped me. It was Richard, what Bobby said Richard thought of me, how Richard went out behind my back with other girls, girls willing to give him more than kisses, to allow him to go farther than groping under clothing. And how he could take a boy like Bobby for his friend. Before telling anybody about Bobby, I needed to talk to Richard.

Richard and I had planned a date for the evening and he picked me up at seven. We were going to the drive-in movies in Kills River in Bobby’s borrowed car.

As Richard drove, I compulsively glanced behind me, at the backseat, envisioning what transpired on it between Richard and me, and Richard and Terry just that afternoon, and with others like Terry.

“Babe,” Richard said, “what’s with the neck? Somebody following us? Maybe your father checking up on us?”

“No, nothing,” I said. “I don’t want to talk about it now.”

“Sure, anything you say, Babe.”

At the drive-in, Richard parked toward the back, over to the side, away from the route people usually followed to the concession stand and restrooms.

He slid his arm around me. “Cozy,” he said, pulling me to him.

I resisted and anchored myself next to the door.

“Hey, what’s eating you? Did I do something?”

“Bobby says you take other girls out in this car.”

He turned full on me. “Bobby said what?”

“You heard me.”

He laughed. “What a son-of-bitch. Forgive my French, Babe, but Bobby’s lying.”

“He said some horrible things about …” I couldn’t bear to utter the word, freighted as it was with disturbing images, and nodded toward the rear instead. “And there’s nothing funny about it.”

“Hey, I agree with you. Bobby’s pissed with me. Forgive my French again, Babe. Look, the guy wanted to double with us tonight.”

“I would never double with Bobby. Besides, no girl would ever date Bobby McFarlane.”

“I know, Babe. Why do you think Bobby’s mad? I told him you don’t like doubles. And I tried to fix him up with Terry Bishop. No luck.”

“He said you where with Terry this afternoon,” I said, casting my eyes to the back.

“I was. Bobby and I were cruising and passed her on Creek Road. She was riding her bike. Bobby asked me to give it another shot. I let him off and circled back to talk to her. Down in flames twice. If you can’t get a date with Terry, it’s hopeless.”

I was silent for a while, considering what he said, somewhat assuaged by it, and troubled, too.

“Richard, why didn’t you ask me when I talked to Bobby. You know I never talk to him?”

“Hmm, well, I figured you must of run into him somewhere.”

“He ran into me on the path by the creek when you were with Terry. He didn’t tell you?”

“No, Babe, not a peep. I guess he was too ticked about Terry.”

“He attacked me, Richard.”

“Attacked you?”

“He pushed me and knocked me down and said some foul, insulting things to me.” He tried pushing closer to me, but I held up my hands. “Don’t.”

“What did he say?”

“I can’t repeat what he said. It was too horrible. And he said terrible things about you, too.”


“What you think of me, Richard, that I’m too prim and proper, that you see other girls because …” I had a difficult time forming the words. “That I don’t put out enough for you.”

Over the years, Richard learned to control his emotions, to project a placidity, a wall competitors, customers, associates, and his wife could not penetrate, an equanimity that, he boasted to me when I questioned his spiritual deadness, gave him the advantage, that put and kept me and the girls in the big house filled with an abundance of things. Early on, I didn’t notice him laying the bricks. That day I credited his fleeting stony reaction to being stunned by the loathsome behavior of a false friend, the way I would respond, as I did, regretfully, respond years later when Angie told me about Bobby and her.

“Babe,” he said, “I would never cheat on you. Not ever, because I never want to lose you. And because I know what it can do to people.”

“You do?” I said. I didn’t know what he meant, didn’t press him, assuming it was probably a girl, perhaps back on Staten Island.

“And it’s why I couldn’t betray a friend, even somebody who did something bad, like poor Bobby.”

“Poor Bobby?” I wheezed, virtually on the verge of tears over the tale of his parents, his wound, and his misguided compassion for Bobby McFarlane.

“The guy’s a mess, Babe. Don’t get me wrong, what he did to you, it wasn’t right. And you better believe he’s getting it from me. No way am I letting him take his frustration out on you. No way. He’s going to get it. But, you know, he’s such a sad sack. In a way, you’ve got to feel sorry for the guy.”

My incredulity was unrestrained and all I could do was exclaim, “Richard, are you insane? He assaulted me. He called me names. He said disgusting things about you, about us. And you’re, you’re making excuses for him? Richard?”

“I’m going to pound him, Babe. I’m going to set him straight. He’ll never do anything like that again, never. I promise. But with Bobby, you’ve got to understand.”

“Understand what, Richard? I understand he’s a lowlife, and he’s dangerous, and he could do something worse another time.”

“There won’t be another time, Babe. But—”

“But what? He’s your friend. He’s still your friend after what he did, what he said? Take me home, Richard, right now.”

I refused to see or talk to Richard for two weeks. He phoned. He visited my house. I saw him in the coffee shop and snubbed him. I was lashing back at him, hurting him, and myself, too. In the end, however, I missed him; I wanted him; I believed I needed him. And I persuaded myself that his staunch loyalty, even to someone like Bobby, was commendable. Richard was a boy I could trust, who I could count on to stand by me. In the end, I compromised on Bobby McFarlane: As long as I had nothing to do with Bobby, Richard could remain his friend. I suppose I believed eventually Bobby would betray Richard in a way he could not forgive.


I park in the YMCA lot and pick up Samantha and Emily in the all-purpose room. Other parents, mostly mothers, are doing the same, all of us waiting for our children to gather up the projects they’ve been laboring over for the past hour.

In the car, I ask Samantha about what she had worked on. “Nothing,” she says. She’s a teen and often sulky. I assume today it’s the YMCA camp, which she doesn’t like. She argues she’s too old for it. She’s probably right and I’ll have to find something else for her next year.

Emily volunteers that she’s been drawing and, from the backseat, inserts her creation between Samantha and me. It’s familiar, a brightly colored woman and two girls holding hands dancing in a circle. From the first time we lived in Cranbury, when Emily began drawing, I’ve thought of her as a fauvist, a little female Matisse. After our relocation to San Diego, I bought Samantha and Emily gifts, sort of welcoming presents to smooth away some of the edge of dislocation. Emily’s was a book of Matisse paintings and drawing, because I remembered her picture of a floating, disgruntled cow. Occasionally, in rare moments when she tired of her dervish larking, she’d flip through the book. I can see now the book has made an impression, for the drawing, in color and composition, bears a striking resemblance to “Dance.”

“Beautiful, Emily,” I say. “Looks like everybody is happy.”

“Maybe,” she says.

At least, I think, this time nobody in the picture is distempered.