Monday, June 16, 2014

To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis by Andra Watkins

Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Library
Read: April 3, 2014

Explorer Meriwether Lewis has been stuck in Nowhere since his mysterious death nearly two centuries ago. His last hope for redemption is helping nine-year-old Emmaline Cagney flee her madame mother in New Orleans and find her father in Nashville. To get there, Merry must cross his own grave along the Natchez Trace, where he duels the corrupt Judge, an old foe who has his own despicable plans for Em. To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis is a genre-bending novel that usually falls through the cracks as agents and publishers struggle to figure out ‘what shelf does it go on?‘ At Word Hermit Press, our answer is every shelf! A rich palimpsest of history, suspense, paranormal and biography, we think To Live Forever creates its own category, which we call “fantastic fiction.” We believe you will agree.

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Meriwether Lewis
This is gonna sound crazy, but I look at the ratings and the reviews for Andra Watkins' To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis and I am half-convinced I've read an entirely different novel. Like other readers I love the idea behind this piece, but the execution left me dazed and confused. Get comfortable friends, this is going to take while. Spoilers ahead, consider yourself warned. 

Maybe I'm off base, but the blind trust Emmaline Cagney places in an overwhelmingly male cast seems wrong in a child who's been sexually exploited in front of her mother's clientele. The experience doesn't affect her at all and that annoyed me as her situation is the catalyst for the entire novel. 

Emmaline also doesn't sound like a nine year old. Her age places her among the likes of Sara Crewe (7), Scout Finch (8), Lucy Pevensie (8), Pippi Longstocking (9), Liesel Meminger (9), Arya Stark (9), Mary Lennox (10), Anne Shirley (11), and Lyra Belacqua (11), which irked as her mannerisms, outlook and thought processes held a much closer resemblance to my four year old... minus the Wonder Twins thing.

Knowing nothing of the Natchez Trace presented certain challenges to my reading of To Live Forever, but my love for comic book heroes highlighted a recurring issue in Em's infatuation with the Wonder Twins. The pair debuted in Joy Ride, an episode of The All-New Super Friends Hour which first aired in early September 1977. This means the characters had only appeared in four episodes by the time Em escapes her mother. The publication of Super Friends #7 on Oct. 1, 1977 marked their introduction to the comic books, which is even more awkward as the bulk of the story takes place between Oct. 4th and October 11th of that year. I suppose it's possible that Em could be obsessed with the campy comic relief Zan and Jayna provided established icons like Superman, Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman, but it just doesn't seem feasible given the timeline. 

My apologies folks. Let's get back to my knowing nothing about the Natchez Trace. Watkins allowed the history of the trail to dictate the story which is great if you are familiar with the material. Unfortunately, she doesn't offer much to those of us who aren't versed in the subject matter, a fact which left me scratching my head on more than one occasion. I don't know why a group of reenactors were playing out the War of 1812 on the trail nor how John James Audubon relates to the location. These stories might be well-known locally, akin to Pompey's Pillar in my own neck of the woods, but nationally Watkins is referencing obscure accounts that aren't universally recognizable. Personally, I feel her failure to acknowledge and compensate for this is a significant oversight, one that made it impossible for me to appreciate the scope of her narrative. 

Continuity is another issue. What gives a group of amateur actors the right to arrest and detain civilians? What in Audubon's history qualifies him as a nowhere man because he seems like a pretty normal guy? And why, the nod to Mark Twain in Jim Watson? It's fun for those who actually read Huckleberry Finn, but I don't see how a fictional caricature fits the rest of the story as he is the only exception in a predominately fact based cast. 

I agree with other reviewers, there are a lot of great concepts and themes in Watkins' work, but to be entirely honest the mechanics and structure of the book made it both disjointed and incohesive. Bottom line, this one wasn't for me and isn't something I can bring myself to recommend

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The sucess of my trip to the Pacific was some kind of powerful drug. Everyone knew me. I was envied for my skills. In my dreams, I heard their whoops, their breathless expressions of admiration and awe. Until success abandoned me. 
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