{Review} The Sharp Time by Mary O'Connell

{Review} The Sharp Time by Mary O'Connell

And look at me: My mother gave me a punk-rock name, but my spirit is composed of elevator music: Tra-la-la-la./Don’t mind me./I’m a nice girl./I have good manners./I’ll not bother you./Tra-la-LA!

The Sharp Time by Mary O'Connell

The Sharp Time by Mary O'Connell

Mary O’Connell’s The Sharp Time is a unique, quiet novel that sneaked up on me. 

I credit Trish Doller with my discovery of The Sharp Time, as she posted about it on her (fabulous, must-follow) Tumblr, and since I adored Trish’s book (my review will be published closer to the book’s release date), I figured that The Sharp Time was worth the read based on her recommendation. 

The Sharp Time begins shortly after ADD-afflicted 18-year-old Sandinista Jones—her free spirit mother named her after the Clash album—has left school following a bizarre conflict with a teacher. Sandinista’s mother has recently died in a fluke accident and the incident at school was the last straw. She’s lonely and angry and lost, wrestling with violent urges.

My feelings are that a granite toad tossed through a window is a lame-ass gesture that barely constitutes revenge. My feelings are that Jesus himself would not be all turn-the-other-cheek–esque about Catherine Bennett, that he’d kick it like: Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me, so don’t be so lame and let Alecia Hardaway s-u-u-ffer.… I cannot shake this off. But what else is there to do except drive home with these bad feelings and attend to the business of the day?

She says “so long” to school and gets a job (after a truly bizarre interview) at The Pale Circus, a vintage clothing store run by the eccentric Henry Charbonneau. While working at The Pale Circus, Sandinista becomes friends with Bradley, the other employee of the shop who has secrets of his own, and makes connections with the other neighborhood characters, including a pawn shop owner, erotic candy maker and a monk. 

These characters combine to create a lively story of a week in the life of a character on the edge. 

This is illustrated brilliantly when Sandinista visits her local gun range (yep, the gun range). 

“Hello! I’m Shirley, the range master. Tell me what I can help you with. And by the way, you’re so pretty. Your hair is darling! Aren’t you a doll?” She turns and stage-whispers to the receptionist, “What a living doll!”

I smile, suckered by her compliments. “Thanks. I just wanted to learn a little bit about self-defense. I just thought I would be proactive. There are a lot of burglaries in my neighborhood.”

“This is the place! Did you bring your own firearm or do you want to rent one?”

I answer her question with my own: “I’ll rent one? I guess?”

“We’ll get it done,” Shirley says. And God bless America, I can rent a handgun simply by filling out another form and plunking down my Visa card.

This urban setting absolutely dazzles with its realism. I’m always on the lookout for fiction set in urban environments, so this was an unexpected treat. While looking through the notes in my Kindle, I found on several occasions that I’d make a notation along the lines of, 

This setting seems so real!

And, frankly, that’s kind of unexpected, because on its face The Sharp Time’s setting seems like it could any city, yet The Pale Circus’ neighborhood is lively and distinct, without ever reading as artificially “Quirky!” and “Funky!” 

Beyond the setting, each scene is beautifully crafted, jumping off the page with a cinematic* feel. 

As I’m lighting a cigarette I hear rap music, loud as sirens, flooding the street, and then a Volvo wagon parks in front of Erika’s Erotic Confections. Two white college-age guys get out of the car, trailed by the sounds of Common and Kanye West: I got two kids and my baby mama late, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh. They go into Erika’s Erotic Confections, the car engine still running, the song still pumping—I did what I had to did cuz I had the kid, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh.

Each passage in this slim novel reads beautifully, yet is also purposeful. 

Bright floodlights switch on, trapping us in a rhombus of golden light. Bradley looks handsome and electric and we freeze like startled, experimental lovers: Uh, what exactly are we doing?

While The Sharp Time is published by the children’s imprint of Random House, I am not entirely sure that the people who will enjoy this novel the most are the YAs.

More likely, I see this appealing to Gen-Xers (due to a number of eighties references) who appreciate smart, surprising contemporary fiction with literary leanings. The fact that it has a narrator who is a teen means that it could be a gateway into reading YA for folks who are turned off by the “teen fiction” label. That’s not to say that some teens wouldn’t enjoy The Sharp Time, but it’s definitely got a more mature vibe, 

I crank up the Clash all the way home, my adrenaline harnessed in perfect pitch. My gun is on the passenger seat and I am Sandinista Jones, motherfuckers, all the way home.

At its core, this is a novel about friendship and its transformative power. It’s rare to find this theme trackled in fresh ways, making The Sharp Time a different little novel that’s best savored for the beauty of the words.

FNL Character Rating: Early Tyra Collette, before she had Tami Taylor as a mentor. I really hope Sandinista finds her Tami and writes an amazing college essay.

{Buy The Sharp Time: Amazon | BN | Book DepositoryPowell’s}

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*Speaking of “cinematic,” Mary O’Connell is a big Friday Night Lights Fan and told me on Twitter that she even mentally cast Kyle Chandler as Henry Carbonneau. This is further evidence supporting my argument that authors who love FNL write the most awesome books. :)


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