Novelette Review: Chasing Dolphins

Chasing Dolphins by September Lynn Gray (2012)

cover art
cover art

Genre: fiction

This is a novelette by another new-coming author, September Lynn Gray. She has released two novelettes, and is working toward publishing a novel.

When I first charted a deadline for reading Chasing Dolphins and writing a review, I had no idea it wasn’t a full-fledged novel. (Since embarking on this book blog, I try to steer clear of reading the synopsis about a book just on the off-chance that it forms an opinion and expectation in my mind. The worst thing would be for a synopsis to get my hopes up just to have them crash, and having to include that in a review.) When the “book” just ended – The End – I thought it was a joke.

I find Charlene Brown so eerily familiar. Perhaps because she is somewhat of an embodiment of myself: I am a young female, my name is Charlie (short for Charlie), I have a Dottie (my aunt Debbie), and I can relate to the sexuality that Gray exposes of her character.

Charlene is a character who has experienced emotional and physical loss in so many ways. She grew up being disposed of by loved ones, and she tries to hide from the idea that her stepfather killed her ailing mother while swindling her inheritance and chunkin’ a deuce out of town. She was  raised separately by her uncle and grandmother during school years and summers, respectively. Under the care of both she was sexually molested and either thrown out for it or basically called a liar, again proving that she isn’t really loved and she is an option for her loved ones.

She’s 18 and had to figure out her life completely on her own….and she naturally finds the wrong guy to spend forever with. But out of that bad, abusive relationship she earns some professional skills by being the bread winner, knowing she can do it. And she also gets a pretty cool son out of the deal and a friend from work. She finally leaves after finding her supposed best-friend drying her bed sheets with a hair dryer to get rid of the wet remains of her affair with Charlie’s man. So she packs up and moves on.

She moves on, but she doesn’t change much. She frequents bars, hoping that “[i]f [she] sat there long enough, he’d come. Always, the wrong guy [finds her].” She’s lonely, so she’ll go home with strangers in hopes of finding an emotional connection to feel less lonely. She forces herself to
“form a connection with [another] human being, pretending that his touch meant so much more than it did.”

As a woman, I understand this. Halfway through college I decided guys at Texas State were either taken, gay or just all around douchebags. So I turned to online dating, going through two bad relationships just like Charlene’s encounters with strangers that I thought would develop into more. But one day I had to look in the mirror and realize, “Girl, you are nothing to him.” But there was one in between the two bad that gave me hope, which is why I tried again…and ended up with a dud, again. It took me a long time to realize he (the middle one) was just like the first, with just a little more suave. His sweet-talking skills were eventually wasted on me. He should have used them to get a business or law degree – they would have served him better there. In terms of this area of Charlene’s character, I understand and can actually relate. However, I can’t relate to the sexual abuse – I am thankful and grateful that I never had to experience that, but I know some who have, and it’s not pretty.

Her work friend, Dottie, is a native Texan, and is the kinda gal that always seems to find those rich SOBs who blow exuberant amounts of money on the stupidest things and own multiple luxury vehicles. But she’s hung on to Charlene, and it’s not really clear why.

Dottie believes love is expressed through food. She is always trying to feed Charlene, because it’s what Texans do. We may not have a lot, but we show appreciation and love through food. Dottie reminds me starkly of my aunt Debbie, who can feed you breakfast at 8 am and tries to feed you again at 10:30 am, knowing lunch is at noon. That’s just who she is, and that’s how Dottie is. She thinks food will solve some of Charlene’s poverty and employment problems.

After one of these bar run-ins with a local, Charlene finds herself in deadly need of medical attention, and all of a sudden she turns her life around. The end.

Yep, just like that. The end.

In terms of development of the story line, I find it lacking (even for a novelette). All of a sudden, after a LIFETIME of neglect, bad decisions and bad relationships, she makes a 180 turn for the better? I find the ending quite trite, tying up all the loose ends into pretty little bows. Bows don’t go with this story. Charlene is the kind that doesn’t do bows – she rips them out. A lifetime of abandonment, abuse and sexual molestation can’t be packaged up like a gift basket wrapped in cellophane and ribbons. It’s utterly unrealistic, and I must say it disappointed me greatly.

The other thing I found not to my liking was the story behind the title. At a young age, her stepfather promised a trip to Hawaii that would never happen. Despite all his drinking, disappearing, stealing and general philandering, Charlene still believed that she would go to Hawaii and see dolphins, explaining her insatiable need to see them in Corpus. Usually children of that upbringing realize what to expect and what won’t happen. It just doesn’t add up. But, I do understand Charlene’s need to see dolphins. Perhaps it serves as an assurance that her life is on the right track.

But I do sing praises and accolades to Gray in her message to women in these kinds of situations:

Concentrate on finding ways to create your own happiness, rather than rely on men to validate your existence. 

I’ve tried to have that conversation with a friend who was chain-smoking through boyfriends (and she was trying to have the “get out of this bad relationship” talk with me with the middle boy during the same time period) and it ruined a friendship. It’s a hard conversation to have with someone, especially when you love them. But, you do because you love them. Her message is something young women of today need to hear, as so many are relying on men to make their lives fulfilled and meaningful.

I’m not too interested in Gray’s other novelette, Lights and Tunnels (2014) but I am piqued to see what she does with a full-length novel.

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