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Kyle Eller: 'Crocodile Tears' shows talent, needs editing

The first question we ask ourselves when we pick up a book is "what's the point?" Books can entertain, inform and enlighten. Preferably, they should do all those things.

The first question we ask ourselves when we pick up a book is "what's the point?" Books can entertain, inform and enlighten. Preferably, they should do all those things.
At first, you may find yourself wondering about the point of "Crocodile Tears and Lipstick Smears," the new Savage Press release by Fran Gabino. The book is Gabino's retelling of her childhood story, growing up in Superior in the 1930s and 1940s. For many readers, just growing up in Superior during that era is enough of a hook, but I'm guessing not for all.
Your first glance won't be the last time you ask what the point is. In Gabino's introduction, she discusses her rationale for writing the book: an article that suggested memoir writing -- chronologically, in fine detail -- as a memory improvement technique. Useful as that may be, it isn't scintillating reading for the 6 billion other folks on the planet.
Except.
Except that our lives touch lots of other folks. Except that we're similar and different in so many ways that peeking inside another life can put perspective on our own.
Though Gabino wanders sometimes into sleep-inducing trivia, to a great degree, those two exceptions apply to "Lipstick."
Just by reader response to books about Superior, it's clear there are Superiorites passionate about the history of their town. A real feeling of community leaps off these pages, and aficionados of Superior history will find a treasure trove of names and events to ponder. I guess those details serve a greater purpose than mere memory enhancement.
And Gabino's telling of her own life rings with the honesty necessary for real self-examination. This short book (less than 150 pages) is filled with tales that range from literally laugh-out-loud funny to sad to outright disturbing. How it relates to your life depends on your life, but Gabino has done her part well.
If that's not enough, Gabino brings a secret weapon -- a genuine gift for language. Not many books contain both the word "succor" and the word "fart." Gabino writes with wit, verve and style, and her talent makes even the more boring stretches readable.
It's not even just English -- Gabino litters the book with Norwegian phrases from her relatives. Far from the annoyance I feared it would be, I found it quite charming and fun.
There's only one big problem with "Crocodile Tears and Lipstick Smears" -- the atrocious editing. Myriad misplaced commas and apostrophes are distracting and cloud meaning, leaving readers rereading passages to figure out what was meant. And I don't believe that's just my editor's eye talking.
The editing problem extends beyond the detail work, too. Additional guidance on the book's content would have made this work dramatically better.
You see, what's really fun about this book is that these vignettes from childhood are talking not just about a child from the past but also about a 65-year-old woman of the present. The reader is continually learning about Gabino's present life, by the very lens she is using to talk about her childhood.
However, these moments are inconsistent. I think the editor could have offered more guidance, helping the writer put her story in better context when necessary. Too often, "Lipstick" is just stories tossed on a page without an anchor for readers to cling to.
Fran Gabino's writing in "Lipstick" is funny, coy and moving. Childhood dirty jokes sit alongside triumphs, humiliations and a complex cast of family, friends and nemeses. The work has the ring of truth.
And just think. It could have been a lot better.
Kyle Eller is the Budgeteer book reviewer. Submit your books to him in care of the Budgeteer News, 222 W. Superior St., Duluth, Minn. 55802. To talk books, call him at (218) 723-1207 or send e-mail to kyle.eller@duluth.com .
Review
The book: "Crocodile Tears and Lipstick Smears," Savage Press, 1999.
Author: Fran Gabino
ISBN: 1-886028-03-6
Cost: $9.95
Recommendation: Gabino is a talented writer in need of a good editor. Sometimes captivating, "Lipstick" is a good contribution to Superior history.

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