Reviewers love to talk about the sophomore slump. Whether it’s a musician, a film director or an author, critics can’t get enough of speculating if an artist will be able to hit it out of the park twice in a row. And it isn’t just critics paying attention. The follow-up to a successful debut can often make or break a career. That second work is where artists prove to their audience whether they are a one-hit wonder or someone worth following for years to come.
Lansing-based author Lori Nelson Spielman is back with her second novel "Sweet Forgiveness." Her first, "The Life List," was a bestseller around the world. It was fun and playful, and felt like a great romantic-comedy captured on the page. But in "Sweet Forgiveness," Spielman challenges her readers with something a little more daring.
In the novel, a new fad is sweeping the nation. Forgiveness Stones are two small rocks that are sent along with a letter asking for forgiveness. The letter writer is supposed to admit a wrong, then beg for forgiveness from the person receiving the stones. The sender learns later if they are forgiven if one of the rocks is returned. It is then hoped that the receiver will send the remaining rock on to someone else, continuing the journey. It’s like a chain letter, but with greater social impact.
The main character in Spielman’s new novel is Hannah Farr. She is a TV talk show host residing in New Orleans; in many ways she is living an exciting and fast-paced life with a mayor for a boyfriend and other stations calling with job offers. Yet, there is something missing for Hannah. She is still not happy, but she isn’t sure why.
At first, Hannah is skeptical of the Forgiveness Stones, dismissing them as silly and kind of hokey. It doesn't help that she knows the fad’s creator, Fiona Knowles. In fact, Fiona sent Hannah one of the very first sets of stones, seeking forgiveness for bullying her during their childhood. What Fiona doesn't know is that her bullying impacted not just Hannah but also her family. Forgiveness is not always easy to give, and even Hannah has some demons she doesn’t want to deal with.
Spielman has a real skill in creating full and rich characters. So many writers rush through their character’s growth, focusing on just the action. But Spielman really takes her time with Hannah. She invites the reader into her head, giving us a chance to listen to Hannah’s internal debates and revelations. This book is one of the best examples of a really great first-person narrative I have seen in years. By the end, each reader will feel like they know Hannah, and might even miss her with the turning of the last page.
Lori Nelson Spielman has nothing to fear from the sophomore slump, and neither do readers of "Sweet Forgiveness." This fantastic second novel made me excited to see what Spielman will do next. Now, I’ve just got to figure out which of the authors I’ve reviewed that I’ll need to send Forgiveness Stones to.
Scott Southard is the author of the new novel "Permanent Spring Showers" and "A Jane Austen Daydream". You can follow his writing via his blog "The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard" at sdsouthard.com.