Kerns: Summers keeps readers turning pages with 'Dark Canvas'
By William Kerns - Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Created 2011-04-17 00:12
A-J Entertainment Editor
A sense of expectation pervades whenever we begin reading a new book by a favorite author. Ah, but what happens when a friend offers an unknown book and says, “Read this?”
Expectation turns to mystery when given that opportunity to try a new author. Will it be a book that takes several chapters to work its way under our skin? Or can this author perhaps grab readers by the figurative throat, daring them to just put the book down and walk away?
Jody Summers’ “Dark Canvas” is one of those grabbers. His book is another that a reader may pick up at bedtime, intending to read a couple chapters before going to sleep, only to look at his watch hours later and wonder how all those minutes disappeared. Well-written novels, no matter the genre, keep me turning pages. But I admit that — perhaps a carryover from youthful preferences — I still enjoy a scary story.
To his credit, Summers’ “Dark Canvas” develops into a spooky romance that I liked even more when I was certain I had the ending pegged, only to find the author throwing me for another unexpected loop.
The book centers on an artist who opens a new business called “Canvas of Life,” a clever name born of the fact that she offers to complete a commissioned painting after mixing her paints with the (cremated) ashes of someone close to her client. Think about it, she says. Instead of looking at that creepy urn on the fireplace mantle, those ashes instead could contribute to the creation of fine art on the wall.
Summers’ primary characters include Kira McGovern, gorgeous, a former fashion model who has given up the runway to pursue a more gratifying and anonymous career — and Sean Easton, who grew up in rural Kansas and initially appears as naive as Kira is worldly.
Kira’s not purposely morbid. Upon using her mother’s ashes and quickly painting a scene that personalized her mom’s life in a touching way, she creates “Canvas of Life” to share that uplifting experience with mourning strangers. Slowly, however, the reader begins to realize, even before the artist, that working with such “cremains,” if you will, bonds Kira with the deceased. Images that she connects with, via visions and dreams, are at first gratifying, or simply mysterious.
But the author provides a sense of foreboding, a hint that the artist hasn’t a clue which doors she might be opening every time she pours a bit more ash onto her palette. This is no take-off on Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Kira is not painting portraits. Changes in those would be more easily noted.
Still, she says, the process becomes easier if the client can provide an image of the life of the deceased. But how many can say they know everything in their parents’ past? Sean can’t. He just doesn’t know it.
Pacing is admirable, even as Summers very slowly gravitates from psychological mystery to clues leading to supernatural possession. The author successfully introduces characters while never straying far from tension. That said, even though readers are informed that Kira realizes she is having a bad dream, I’m not at all sure that I would continue painting if I had the same sort of nightmare.
For example: “Slowly, moving in unison, they all turned to face her and shock turned to horror as she recognized severed heads were encased in the glass, each face frozen in the terror of its demise, eyes wide and mouths rigid in a final mortal scream.”
Kira wakes up screaming?
Well heck, of course she does. And this was just an early dream about working with ash. Nevertheless, Kira continues and, for a while, clients are pleasantly stunned by Kira’s ability to take events and images from family history and immortalize them on canvas. The love story shared by Kira and Sean is charming, in no small way because of her fondness for experiencing her favorite things in a new way through his eyes. Summers writes about New Orleans and farm life with a believability hinting that he may have experienced both.
Sean also has a gift that might clear him for the X-Men minor leagues, but nothing that scares Kira away. Keeping spoilers to myself, I’ll just say that Sean’s gift comes in handy, both in Louisiana and Kansas, as he tries to keep Kira safe. And it will suffice to say that those who do get a giant kick out of “Dark Canvas,” as I did, are going to love the last paragraph.
MAY 30th 2011
(In thanks for a friend sending a copy of DARK CANVAS) "And the book! I started it Saturday and finished it Sunday. I can honestly say it's been the first book I've read in a long time that I grudgingly put down when I had to go do something else. I enjoyed it so much. 🙂
"I'm definitely going to buy his next book."
Published on Lubbock Online | Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (http://lubbockonline.com)