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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Finney, Jack: Marion's Wall

  Amazon  

2 stars

The skeleton of the story told  by Jack Finney in his 1973 novel Marion's Wall is interesting enough.  Married couple Nick and Jan--and their basset hound Al--move in to the second floor of a San Francisco house where, they discover, a silent screen actress by the name of Marion Marsh had once lived. (They find her name painted on the living room wall; hence the book's title.)  Marion, a brash blonde with a penchant for risk-taking, had died in a car accident just before she would have made it big: Joan Crawford, in her first role, assumed the part Marion had been cast for and won the accolades that were due her predecessor. Cheated of this glowing future, Marion's ghost, as it turns out, wants to pursue her career in 1970's Hollywood, and she inhabits Jan's body, eventually with the latter's permission, with a view to making her come-back. But what will become of Jan, now that she's sharing her body with a wanton starlet? And how frequently will Nick cheat on his wife with his wife's body? The reader's curiosity about these and other questions may be sufficient to propel him or her to the book's finish line. But getting there is a long slog.

Jack Finney, the author of, among other books, the science fiction classics Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Time and Again, is quite capable of writing compelling fiction. And Marion's Wall would have made a good short story. Unfortunately, the book is a short story's worth of material stretched out to fill a novel's worth of pages. The story has not been expanded, as might have been done, through the introduction of subplots and minor characters who make things more difficult for our protagonists. Rather, it was expanded through the accumulation of wholly unnecessary, mind-numbingly uninteresting description. Particularly in the last thirty or so pages of the book, the details come so thick and fast that one reads on just to see how many more inconsequential items the author can paint with such precision. A small example of this comes some twenty pages from the end, when Nick and Jan/Marion are let into a gate by an employee of the mansion they're calling at--a man whose only function in the story is to open that gate and who is never heard from again: "We heard a sound, a rattle, and a man on a bicycle was riding bumpily down the driveway toward us: youngish, bald, and wearing a kind of butler's uniform, though without a coat--black pants with a narrow white stripe down the sides, black and white horizontally striped vest, wing collar, bow tie." Now imagine that virtually every object our heroes come across is described as precisely.

If you want to know whether Jan ever gets her body back, or what it's like to bed the ghost of a 1920s starlet, then Marion's Wall is the book for you. But if you want to appreciate Jack Finney's writing and imagination, stick to the classics.

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