"Rumors," a novel by first-time fiction writer Stephanie Abrams, better known in the Berkshires for her radio travelogues, presents itself in two very different ways.
It has fascinating stories contained within it, but too many characters with too little character to buoy them up. The story is told primarily through short descriptive paragraphs. Dialogue, when it happens, doesn't say much about the characters' backgrounds or styles.
Dialogue is difficult. It serves two purposes. One is to present a lively interaction between people that moves the story along. The other is to indicate social status, education, up-bringing and a level of sophistication that can run from total naivete to over-riding snobbishness. It is, in short, how the reader truly gets to know each character from that character's perspective. How we hear the spoken words tells us so very much.
"Rumors" is short on dialogue. When it happens, the topics are generally so clinical, or the interchanges are so brief, that the dialogue doesn't tell us much about the people speaking. The book is highly dependent, instead, on third-person narrative, which often extends to events that that occur long after the ending and really have nothing to offer but a sense of hurried conclusion.
"Rumors" does feature very curious people caught in some deliciously intriguing situations. It is also a quick read. Abrams moves things at a pace that never drags or bores. Her tale could be drawn from newspaper headlines, as the residents of a Long Island community clash, protect, rejoice and reject one another in a series of incidents that are occasionally based on rumors started by one or another of them about a neighbor, a relative, a friend.
This aspect of the book is the most realistic. Hurried theories about other people's doings are nothing new in fiction or in life. In this book. those most affected by rumors being spread are women, single and married. Their lives undergo misplaced scrutiny that leads to misunderstandings about the rumor and its instigator. Its biggest lesson is not to whisper to a friend about anything you cannot absolutely prove to be true.
The single and wealthy Melanie Cohen and the married and middle-class Allison Shapiro are linked by rumors about entrepreneur David King.
Stuffy Frank; ditsy Maisy; her father Nate, a retired cop; a small-time businessman known as Mr. Bodyparts; and a corporate dean called Dugan are all also linked by rumor, innuendo and theories about criminal conspiracy.
Long Island and New York City become linked by more than just the Long Island Railroad and Long Island Expressway. Both locales have been given a bright semblance of fiction and they emerge as only partially focal.
Abrams moves us from place to place and from group to group with a certain ease that complements the book's intention to provide meat for the rumors that drive the storylines.
Two people start out to do one thing and another takes its place. Love affairs don't go as planned and business relationships make for strange bedfellows. Even death, which usually alters the activities of those closest to it, results in only the slightest adjustments. It it is left to a two-page epilogue, echoing the technique of some recent films, to wrap up the multiple story lines.
"Rumors" is said to be the first in a series the author intends to bring out. One hopes that as she progresses, she will take on a story from a stronger perspective and build characters who feel much more alive and individual, than cut from the same piece of felt.
For a starter, let us say that Abrams has a story that is compelling, even if its elements are not real as they might have been if it had been populate by living and breathing characters.
Book review ...
"Rumors" by Stephanie Abrams. Fiction. Published by Xlibris. 2012. Trade Paperback and e-book. 344 pages. $19.99