A critique of the education system wrapped in quirky humor and a magical twist.
B. P. Ellery creates dynamic characters and offers insight into the American education system in From a Mid-Wood. With a postmodern style and charismatic narration, the story follows many different characters and their memorable interactions with each other.
The book bounces among the eclectic characters’ points of view, from a homeless man to the president of the United States, and weaves their stories together to form one cohesive narrative. The story centers on protagonist Ryan Tether, a schoolteacher who lives with his wife, Dee, and their three children in Southern California. Although both he and his wife teach at public schools, they have notably different experiences in dealing with new state-mandated education standards.
The couple’s eldest son, Paul, falls in love with a much older woman but is confronted with the reality of just how messy and complicated relationships can be. The book also follows President Herb Plant as he implements detrimental educational policies and tries to moderate his addiction to the card game hearts, as well as Mark Clear, whose sense of entitlement has lost him multiple jobs and created many enemies.
Elements of magic realism appear occasionally. Lines like, “‘Take a stool softener,’ he heard the sculpture murmur in an Irish whisper,” appear, with no concrete explanation as to whether the statue is actually alive or if the event is completely fabricated by the protagonist. Although these instances of magic realism are few and far between, they add much appreciated humor and mystery to the novel.
Characters are well developed and the witty dialogue can lead to memorable interactions. “She began to chuckle at the box’s fine print until he dropped his pants. ‘Ohhhh my god,’ she gasped, putting her hand over her mouth, ‘You’ve become a human chia pet.’” The narration, as this line indicates, showcases the raunchy personalities the characters develop that make the novel humorous.
The use of foreshadowing is a strength of the book. This is shown in a line like, “An excuse would need to be invented to back out of this commitment later.” The author also recreates key events of the last couple of decades and the fallout that occurred in their wake. Mirroring a gaffe made by a recent commander-in-chief of the United States, President Plant states “‘but if you’re working as an OBGYN and you’re loving a woman, you don’t want to get your hands all in there if there’s some lawyer outside waiting to sue your pants off.” In 2004, President George W. Bush was quoted as saying, “Too many OBGYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women across the country,” referring to doctors’ fears of malpractice lawsuits. These parallels to real events add humor and tragedy to the novel.
From a Mid-Wood will be enjoyable to those who like a distinct and experimental writing style, as well as those who enjoy realistic fiction with the occasional magical twist.
Gregory A. Lowe
Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the publisher will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.