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Brand New Human Being by Emily Jeanne Miller

Brand New Human Being

by Emily Jeanne Miller

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On the plus side, the characterization and central conflicts in this story were strong, but I found the pacing uneven and plot resolution less than satisfying.

However, my biggest gripe is with the expectations set by the jacket info, and I realize the author may have had little control over this.

Firstly, it's not "fast-paced," at least, not for the first two-thirds of the book. Curtis Sittenfeld sets Ms Miller up for poor reviews through this endorsement. And secondly, I really object when I have to read as far as page 150 (out of 261) to reach the plot spoiler that's in the blurb. This catalyst for change in the main character should have been placed much earlier in the novel, or omitted from the jacket. ( )
  paulinewiles | Jan 26, 2015 |
Very much enjoyed this unique story about parenting and loss. Deftly written and compelling. Excellent sense of place throughout.
  mjennings26 | Sep 13, 2013 |
I think that Brand New Human Being was a well-written book with well-drawn characters that had depth. However, all of the characters, especially Julie and Logan, were so deeply flawed that I didn't like any of them and spent most of the book wanted to reach in and shake them. I think it's speaks well of the author when she can cause such a strong reaction in a reader. But when I read a book with those kinds of characters, there needs to be at least one likeable character to balance things out.

I also thought that some things wrapped up a little too neatly in the end, while other things that I was wondering about through the whole book never did. For instance, why was Julie losing weight and not eating - was she sick, anorexic, or what?

This book wasn't my cup of tea necessarily. However, there are plenty of glowing reviews for it out in the blogosphere so clearly it does have appeal to some. ( )
  mcelhra | Jul 31, 2012 |
I was surprised how quickly I read this book. It’s hard for me to read about train wreck lives – to watch a character that I can relate to and sympathize with make horrible choices.

Logan Pyle, the main character of “Brand New Human Being” is adrift in his life. After meeting Julie and shortly thereafter, finding out they were going to be parents – it seems like he stopped moving forward. He found himself married, with a son, with a dying father, with a stepmother he has more than conflicting emotions about, without his doctorate, with a job he doesn’t seem to care much about… He is flailing and in the few days the reader spends with him in this book – we see him drift right up to the edge of disaster.

The writing is very well done. Normally I have several quotes that I pick from a book to include in my review…but this read so cleanly and so realistically when it came to average and emotionally messy daily life, that I just keep reading without stopping.

I did find it interesting, though, that many of the characters refer to Logan as having a big heart…but although he is a nice enough person, I did not see examples of his big heart and certainly didn’t get that impression from his point of view. He loves his son and loves his wife – both in very human and complicated ways. He loved his father…again with some frustration…and he’s not a bad person. But he’s sort of selfish, not very considerate, has more than a strong temper…. I just didn’t get the “big heart” references.

I would certainly pick up the next book by Miller and hope that it gives the same honest look behind the curtains of a family that this book did. ( )
  karieh | Jul 13, 2012 |
This is one of those books that is probably lovely, but since it isn't my tastes, I just couldn't connect or really engage with it. Logan Pyle, a young (30ish?) father is married to Julie, a work-minded lawyer, living in a house he inherited from his father, raising his nearly four-year old while Julie works on the case of a lifetime. When Logan catches Julie with another man (not a spoiler; the jacket blurb shares this), he takes his son and flees to his father's widow, a woman only a few years older than him, and ostensibly learns about being a 'brand new human being' and stuff.

I had a few problems with this book, starting with the pacing. Based on the jacket blurb, I expected the moment of infidelity to occur early on but instead, I kept reading and reading and thinking, so when is it going to happen?. Since it's the motivating factor for Logan's leaving -- and thus the point of this novel -- I presumed we'd get to it quickly. The fact it arrived so late in the story really removed some of the book's oomph for me. I suspect Miller was trying to build a portrait of a marriage so we readers would be more invested in Logan's leaving but I just found the pacing slow.

After that, I found the plot pretty flimsy. Logan marries Julie after two weeks of sex because she's pregnant; when four years later he finds himself with a toddler and a wife who prefers work to him, I shrugged my shoulders. I think I was supposed to be moved by their young romance but instead, I felt sorry for Julie -- saddled with a loser husband who didn't find her groundbreaking legal work as compelling as she did -- and I just wanted to shake Logan. His response -- to flee with his son -- was as poorly thought out as his earlier life choices. Honestly, I just kept thinking that this couple is exactly the reason why we need safe, affordable abortion in this country. Okay, I'm being glib, but really, the whole time I was reading this, I just felt so sad for these two. There's no medical reason they had to rush into having a baby, and they didn't know each other, and their own careers were modified by their marriage...I don't know, it just felt like such a waste.

I would describe this as married chick lit, mabye, kind of formulaic, kind of inspirational, earnest, with some real meat -- definitely good summer fare -- and for the right kind of reader, probably a captivating read. ( )
  unabridgedchick | Jul 4, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0547734360, Hardcover)

Author One-on-One: Curtis Sittenfeld and Emily Jeanne Miller

Curtis Sittenfeld: I love Brand New Human Being, and I also think it's a hard book to describe, plot-wise. When people ask what your novel is about, what do you say?
Emily Jeanne Miller: I've had a hard time with this, too--my "elevator speech." A writer-friend who read an early draft described it as the story of a man going from being a son to being a father, and I liked that. I liked it so much, in fact, I've said it a couple of hundred times since.

Sittenfeld: The setting of the novel is an unnamed town in Montana that you make vivid both through physical descriptions and with a storyline about environmental problems tied to mining. Did you have a specific place in mind, or is the town fictitious?
Miller: I lived in Missoula, Montana, while I was getting a Master's degree in Environmental Studies, and I also started writing fiction there. I don't know if it was the time in my life, or the work I was doing, or the stunning natural beauty that was all around, but the place really captured my imagination. That said, the city is fictional, and so are most of the other places I describe (as anyone who knows Missoula, or Montana, will quickly discover). The same is true with the mining case in the novel: the environmental issues are real, but the case and the facts I describe are not.

Sittenfeld: It seems to me that the idea of authenticity is especially prized in relation to the American West. Because you grew up and now live in Washington, D.C., do you feel worried about being considered an outsider looking in?
Miller: Sure--but only because I worry about everything! But really, no. Isn't being an outsider looking in what being a writer always is, to a certain extent? I know there are people who believe only person X can write a story about Y, but I'm not one of those. I think people can--and should--write about what they want to write about. Everyone has a unique voice, and thus something unique to add. Besides, this book isn't about the place (which is why I fictionalized the city, going back to your question above), it's about people--and I do have impeccable credentials when it comes to being one of those.

Sittenfeld: I know that when your agent submitted this novel to publishers, she did so under the name "E.J. Miller," and because your protagonist, Logan Pyle, is male, everyone assumed you were a man. What made you decide to write from a man's point of view? Have you had any male readers says Logan does things a man wouldn't? (I was totally convinced by him, but then again, I'm just a woman with a man's name!)
Miller: This question reminds me of a conversation you and I had, many years ago, about writing. Regarding a story you'd written, you said that in your secret heart, you were a cranky twenty-three-year-old woman. I laughed, and said in my secret heart I was a lonely thirty-five-year old man. I don't know if or why I really am that man, but I wrote this book from Logan's point of view because it just seemed clear to me that it was his story to tell. For a long time I was writing it in the third person, but then one day, for no reason I can recall, I started writing in his voice, in the first person, and something clicked. His story unfolded more naturally that way. I'm pleased to say that so far, people--men and women alike--seem very convinced by the voice.

Sittenfeld: I first met Logan Pyle ten years ago, when you wrote a short story about him. What made you know his particular story could or should expand into a novel?
Miller: I once heard a writer say that only failed short stories can become novels, and I think she was right. Brand New Human Being began as a failed short story that continued, through many rewrites and expansions, and over about a decade, to fail. The thing about this story (as opposed to other short stories I've written that didn't work) was that I couldn't seem to put it down for good. It felt like unfinished business, and stayed with me in a nagging way that kept me coming back until one day, distraught over shelving another novel I'd been working on, I went back to him once more. This time, I found there was lots more say. While I wouldn't necessarily recommend the ten-year gestation period to aspiring novel writers, I will say it paid off for me, in that by the time I sat down that last time, I already had the novel's basic frame--the setting, the main characters, and several plots, each with a beginning, a middle and an end. Of course there was still plenty left to figure out, and plenty that changed and surprised me over the course of writing the book, but I did feel I had a running start.

Sittenfeld: You and I are second-generation friends--not only are we close, but so are our dads, who went to college together and like to gossip on the phone. Will it be your dad who calls mine first after reading this interview or mine who calls yours?
Miller: Hmm, that's a tough one. They both know their way around a Google Alert, and are a quick draw with the phone. If I were betting, I think I’d have to hedge.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:06 -0400)

Leaving his wife after discovering her with another man, stay-at-home dad Logan packs up his four-year-old son and embarks on a journey that takes him to his late father's cabin, where he seeks unexpected redemption at the side of his father's young widow.… (more)

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