Whenever I see that a book is written by two authors, I am immediately a little bit worried. Usually, it is really easy to spot which author wrote which part and it annoys the hell out of me. I don't care if it's two different characters or whatever reason they have for writing together - I want a consistent writing style.
But luckily, there are exceptions and The Paragraph Ranch is one of them. If you are like me and tend to avoid double-author books, which I know a lot of you do, then let this book be the one to prove you wrong.
Dee Bennett - Kaufmann is a divorcee with a dream of publishing a book about a 1930s female creative writing teacher. However, Dee is stuck and, being a teacher herself, can't find enough time to write. Then, just as she is about to start her writing summer, she has to leave the East Coast and go back home to take care of her mother, who was in an accident, and the huge farm she lives on. On the way, we learn about why Dee left Texas, why she has such a complicated relationship with her daughter and mother and what happened to the creative writing teacher.
Can I relate to Dee?
When I was given the opportunity to review this book, I decided to take it based on the writing. From the beginning chapters, the writing is so smooth and effortless that you immediately get draw into the story. However, I did immediately wonder : will I like Dee? She is a mother, a divorcee and dislikes where she comes from. I'm 24, never had any kids and I love going home whenever I can - so it sounded like we would have absolutely nothing in common. But somehow, Kay and Barbara managed to write Dee as such a likeable narrator that I did relate to her. Even though we never had any of the same struggles, I really liked Dee. She is not perfect, she is stubborn and kind of cold, but she always tries to do the best. And for any writer, like myself, reading about the struggles of other writers is a comfort. I get you Dee, writing a book is not easy.
A huge part of this book is the setting: Texas. You can almost say that it is the main character along with Dee. Dee has avoided Texas for as long as possible, but due to her mother being sick, she is thrown right back into it. And The Paragraph Ranch makes it very hard to understand why anyone would want to avoid Texas. The descriptions of the places are beautiful and realistic (from my little knowledge of Texas anyway) - the farm Dee's mother lives on is not perfect, it is actually kind of worn down, but the writers still describe the charm and the beauty of the place. Same with the landscapes. And, very smart move, they made one character a photographer, so that they could really focus on the description and the beauty of Texas.
However, sometimes the writers went a little bit overboard with the descriptions. I totally get the important of Texas, but I don't need a whole page with how the place looks. I get it with less details, I can imagine stuff. A story needs enough action to keep me interested.
So like I said, the most extraordinary thing about this book is the writing. No, it's not filled with deep metaphors and sentences that will change your life, but it's simple and effective - it draws you into the story. You can't tell which author worked on what piece of the book, but they did give every character a very distinctive voice. Dee talks differently from her mother and her daughter, which is very effective in my opinion. No one speaks the same way and sometimes authors just create one generic voice to suit everyone. Barbara and Kay really went out of their way to do more for their characters and to really give them a personal voice.
Writing advice in every chapter
The one thing I didn't like about the book was the lay-out. Every chapter begins with writing advice, such as "At the heart of every story lies one of two universal plots. Number one: Someone takes a trip".
What this does is kinda ruin the whole chapter already; you know what is going to happen before it happens and that just doesn't work for me personally. I started to ignore the subtitles after the first few chapters, just because I don't want anything in a book spoiled, but I think it would work so much better without them.
As you can tell, if you read this whole thing, is that I really liked the book - I was honestly surprised by how much I liked the book. It is a good light read for those cold winter days coming up. But it wasn't my favourite book of the year, which had a lot to do with the subtitles and sometimes a tad too much description, so it is a four out of five. But a great four out of five.