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May 27, 2017

Great Potential: Keeping Away from the Joneses by Bowen Craig

by Donna Huber



A few weeks ago I went to Statham to have lunch and there was a street fair going on. I love looking at the crafts and whatnots so I strolled through. I happened upon a book booth for a local Athens book publisher - Bilbo Books. I got to talking with Bowen Craig who is a co-founder of the publisher and an author himself. He gave me a copy of his book Keeping Away from the Joneses for an honest review.

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Keeping Away from the Joneses
June 2009; iUniverse; 978-1440117039
ebook, print (119 pages); satire
I love meeting local authors and I wasn't aware of this publishing group. Bilbo Books is a pay-to-publish outfit focused on memoirs, but they also work with authors of general fiction and children's books.

I was really excited about reading Keeping Away from the Joneses. The back cover summary is sparse:

Diedre Jones is a full-time Appalachian maid and part-time hypochondriac. She and her eclectic, crazy family have always been on the bottom rung of the American ladder. But that was before they won the lottery...

But I was grabbed by the fact that Diedre, or Dee as she is called by friends and family, is a hypochondriac. Hypochondriasm can offer a great deal of comic relief in fiction. And while we are told (there's a bit more telling than showing in this novel) in the opening chapters that she is a hypochondriac, we never see any signs of this particular mental illness. Perhaps, Craig, who often opened chapters with dictionary definitions, failed to read the entry for hypochondriac, "a person who is abnormally anxious about their health."

Unfortunately, this was not the only problem with the book.

The whole book felt a bit like reading a season of The Beverly Hillbillies. The opening chapters were character vignettes and since I'm not a huge fan of short stories, this manner of character establishment didn't appeal to me. It still bugs me that in the chapter where we are introduced to Uncle P, who likes to experiment with household items to see what can get him high, there is mention that the family gets in Ethel's SUV and goes to her house from the hospital. Why didn't they drive themselves to the hospital? Why was Ethel there? Perhaps if Ethel had driven just Dee and Hannah it would have made since they clean her house. But the whole family?

Speaking of the character development. Craig heaped every redneck stereotype upon the characters that they became more caricatures that possible real people. So it was difficult to become attached to any of them. Though when we finally get to the main plot of them winning the lottery things got a little better. The story arc expanded over the chapters and we get to see the actions of the characters more.

There were also technical problems with the book. The reading level is low, but that wasn't the problem per se. Instead, it was the oddly worded sentences, misspelled words, and mixed-up homophones that I took issue with.

"Setting down the silver colored, metal folding chair he was carrying in order to think, PH thought." pg. 22

Did I really need to be told "he thought" at the end of the sentence? It just felt like I was reading more of a draft than a final product. And really there is a lot of potential in this book for a great story. You can see Craig's potential to be a great writer. I really think if Craig would tweak the story a bit, clean up the copy, and address some of the layout inconsistency, the comparison of a modern day John Steinbeck could be made.

If you are interested in checking out this novella, you can buy it at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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