by Darren Freebury-Jones
Read again in July 2016:
Gosh, I think I love this even more! I had to up my star rating. Anyway, bought my copy for this go around since I don't hang on to the read for review copies. Highly recommended for folks who love memoirs (this one's fictional, but feels real) and stories that really suck you in.
Original Review from June 2013:
Intelligent, poignant, believable...
These are the three words I'd use to describe Cinnamon Twigs. This fictional memoir follows the rise and fall of Daniel Mace from childhood, through college, love, loss, fame, and finally redemption. Daniel falls in love with drama as a child, and this early love molds his life and guides him towards greatness as an adult. His memories of youth include best friends Lisa and Elliot, making home movies, and playing small parts in school productions. Not all is perfect even then. His friend Lisa's father is abusive and violent, his mother is bipolar, his own father abandoned him and his mother.
From there, the story progresses into his teen and college years. Daniel meets best friend, Michael, and their adventures play out in the youthful illusion of invincibility. His love of theater matures at this stage of life, and romantic love also blooms. However, as in real life, the path to true and lasting love isn't an easy or direct route.
Even after he hits it big, success isn't all he'd expected it to be. The people are fickle and easily swayed by the tabloids and press. This works in his favor when these institutions paint him in bright rosy colors, but when they turn to darker shades for the sake of a better story, his life takes a turn for the worse. A disintegrating marriage, self-destructive social life, and growing addiction lead him to a drastic solution.
Having recently read a few non-fiction memoirs, I must say the author has pulled off the format and feel in Cinnamon Twigs. While reading, I kept having to remind myself "this isn't real." So much insight, feeling and personality filter through from the narrator, that it's easy to forget. Though most of the story is told in linear fashion, an occasional detour into the past or a glimmer into a future yet unknown to the younger Daniel give the feeling that a real person is behind the words, that these things truly happened.
This leads to one of the things I most enjoyed about the story: guessing just how much of it comes from the author's personal experience and how much comes from his imagination. One of my guesses is that he is exploring an alternate branch that his own life may have taken had he decided to follow his dreams rather than finish his PhD or had he made other, equally life-altering decisions. The author's take on the power of the press to guide and control public thought and opinions, the futile quest for immortality through pursuit of fame, and the intertwining natures of love and loss flow naturally from Daniel's experiences, the people he meets, and the path his life takes. The line between fiction and non-fiction is delightfully blurred.
Another thing that I found both challenging and enjoyable was the quality of the writing. This story is written at a reading level much higher than I'm used to and I found myself whipping out the virtual dictionary and Google Translate with some frequency. I'm pleased to say most of my contextual guesses for both the unfamiliar English vocabulary and the multi-linguistic phrases were at least somewhat correct, but I'm glad I decided to check behind them. I took notes for quicker reading next time.
All in all, I enjoyed this book. Cinnamon Twigs forced me to think, broadened my perspective, and entertained me. And, though challenged by the sophisticated language and writing style, I was not overwhelmed by it.
I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy literary fiction, contemporary fiction, social commentary shrouded in fiction, and fictional memoirs. Besides that, I recommend having your dictionary and a translation application of choice handy.
I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest, non-reciprocal review.
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