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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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Kindle | paperback (UK)

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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paperback | hardcover (UK)

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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paperback | hardcover (UK)

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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Haines, Lise: Small Acts of Sex and Electricity

  Amazon  

3.5 stars

Mattie and Jane have been friends since they were little girls, neighbors for part of the year on the Santa Monica beach. Both were escaping from dysfunctional families in those years, Jane summering sans parents with her grandmother Franny. And Franny wound up offering a second home also to Mattie while her parents sailed and mingled and drank cocktails. This pattern--Mattie playing the loved but resented (by Jane) third wheel--would repeat itself in the girls' adulthood. When Lise Haines's Small Acts of Sex and Electricity opens, Jane has been married to Mike for some fifteen years, and Mattie has been watching their relationship since its conception, as if with her nose pressed against the glass, debarred from a relationship that might have been, should have been hers: the "electricity" of the book's title refers in part to Mattie's attraction to Mike.

But Haines soon upsets the balance of this not quite comfortable threesome. After Franny's death, Mattie returns to the beach house to help appraise the property, and Jane takes the opportunity to walk out on her family, in essence surrendering her life to Mattie. Haines tells the story of what  happens in the following weeks, how Mike and Mattie respond to Jane's offering, from Mattie's perspective, in the first person. Direct speech is introduced by dashes rather than quotation marks, and the speakers are rarely identified, which makes following conversations difficult at times. Haines's writing has a dreamy, indistinct quality to it, perhaps reflecting Mattie's state of mind after Jane leaves. The characters seem to float through the story, not addressing their problems directly, not communicating with one another effectively. Sometimes the writing is strained:

"I have no affinity for the afterlife. No desire to play with its rolling energy as Jane did. She treated death like a boy inside a tire at the top of a steep road. She stood in his path, unflinching, taunting his friends to let go of the rubber rim."

The premise of Haines's book is an interesting one, but I never came to care about the characters--a bunch of not particularly likable people doing not particularly likable things. They are more than two dimensional yet fail to come to life on the page. Book groups will enjoy dissecting the motives of the author's various principals, but in the end I don't think the book is likely to linger in one's memory. Not a bad read, but not a great one.

Review summary: Mattie and Jane were childhood friends, neighbors for part of the year on the Santa Monica beach. Jane summered with her grandmother Franny, who provided a second home for Mattie while her parents were off sailing. When the book opens, Jane is married to Mike, and Mattie has had to watch as Jane enjoyed a relationship that might have been hers. After Franny's death, Mattie comes to visit, and Jane takes the opportunity to abandon her family. Haines tells the story of what happens next from Mattie's perspective in dreamy, indistinct prose. Her characters seem to float through the story, not addressing their problems directly, not communicating with one another effectively. I never came to care about them--a bunch of not particularly likable people doing not particularly likable things. Book groups will enjoy dissecting the principals' motives, but I don't think the book will prove memorable.

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