A sly send-up of how-to books on writing might seem an odd bedfellow for a story about a family’s lingering grief. But Georgia author Melanie Sumner (The Ghost of Milagro Creek) ingeniously unites the unlikely duo in her fourth novel, which begins when 12-year-old Aristotle “Aris” Thibodeau receives a book from her mother called “Write a Novel in Thirty Days!”
….Fiction and reality crisscross and collide in Sumner’s lighthearted novel, a reminder that life rarely plays by the rules. As Salman Rushdie notes in an epigraph that begins one chapter, “This is not what I had planned; but perhaps the story you finish is never the one you begin.”
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
…I actually snorted a few times while reading this book; not only is Aris, the narrator and main character, absolutely hilarious, but so are the other characters in this highly entertaining story of a young girl and her belief that “the fate of the Montgomery-Thibodeau family rested on my literary success.” She is a little bitter about the fact that all of the “therapy money” is spent on her younger brother, due to his “unique sensitivity to the world,” and she sees this as a way to earn a spot with Dr. Dhang, the family therapist, among other things. Her mother is a widow and, according to Aris, “Diane is the only Montgomery to ever lose a job. At fifteen, she was dismissed from the Avon sales force for convincing women that they were more beautiful without cosmetics.”
Her brother, Max, “has been searching for his talent for quite some time. Bypassing the more conventional art forms (too much competition), he has tried squirting milk out of his nose for long distances, training snails to swim (that was a sad one), and squeezing himself through a tennis racket. We’re still searching.” And then, amidst the family chaos, there is Penn, the PMI (acronym for Positive Male Influence), with whom Aris would really like her mother to fall in love.
“Penn is allowed to cuss because he was in the navy. Diane says taking the cuss out of a sailor is like taking the shine out of the sun. He has a terrible, terrible tattoo that he got one night when he was drunk with some sailors, but he won’t let anyone see it, not even Diane. In the summer, when he takes us to the river to jump off rocks, he blackens it with a permanent marker. I’m always trying to imagine it.”
This is definitely the most wildly entertaining book I’ve read this summer; I realize that the author is not, in actuality, “12.5 years old,” but it was so much fun to embrace a little suspension of disbelief and read this story from Aris’ perspective.
In the vein of Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, Sumner’s (The Ghost of Milagro Creek) quirky story about an unconventional family is charming and precocious, like Aris herself.
I have long been an admirer of Melanie Sumner’s fiction–the fierce wit and sharp intelligence and trained eye when locating the pulse of compassion– and How To Write A Novel her brilliant new novel, offers all this and more. I love the narrator, Aris Montgomery, twelve and a half going on eternal and I love the references to writing– the parallels to real life that lead to those moving moments that cannot be edited. A beautiful and accomplished novel by an extraordinarily gifted talent.
Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life
“If someone were going to make a novel out of your no doubt complicated life, you’d definitely want your narrator to be Aristotle Thibodeau, the precociously wise (though never annoyingly so) tell-it-all behind Melanie Sumner’s hilarious and warm-hearted novel.”
Will Blythe, author of To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever
The author teaches fiction writing at Kennesaw State University, but this is no self-help manual for would-be novelists. It’s a meta-fictional tour de force involving 12-year-old Aristotle “Aris” Thibodeau, who believes following the advice in book titled “Write a Novel in Thirty Days!” will help her English professor mother reboot her life. Sumner brings a knowing, tongue-in-cheek sparkle to discussions of writing workshop chestnuts such as rising action and climax, never losing sight of the humanity of her characters and the unpredictable nature of reality.