What makes us love those tragic lovers?
It was a tiny book, maybe just over a hundred pages. First the Dullea sisters had a copy, but by the end of the week everybody in my highschool was reading Love Story. It fit nicely behind our textbooks, even behind the Tale of Two Cities we were supposed to be discussing in English. Sister Mary History Class was astonished to see how many of her students were moved to tears by the fall of the Roman Empire. We sniffled as we read it in propped up behind our math and Spanish textbooks, and then we all went to the movie and bawled again.
So what is it about sad love stories that has us coming back for more? Is it that we’re just happy to be able to say to ourselves, “Well, my lover didn’t kill himself over my (faked) death, leaving me no other option than to fall on my dagger. So that’s all good, right?” Or maybe it’s just the way we’re wired? An Ohio State study showed that watching tragedies actually increases feelings of short-term happiness. According to Ohio State researcher Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, ‘Tragic stories often focus on themes of eternal love, and this leads viewers to think about their loved ones and count their blessings.’ There are even studies that show increases in oxytocin levels in people who watch tearjerkers. “When we empathize with other people (even fictional ones on screen), our brain releases oxytocin, which engages brain circuits that prompt us to care about others.”
Tell us your favorite sob-fest in comments below!!
My guest today knows something about what draws us to tragic love stories. Please welcome author VJ Patterson, who grew up listening to her grandfather’s stories, one of which inspired her first novel, When the Crows Fly Low.
Following my review, please see my interview with VJ Patterson, plus an excerpt from When the Crows Fly Low.
At eleven-years-old, Will Lawson discovers that Hell isn’t just a place for demons. It exists on earth in an act so evil it rips away a part of his innocent soul. In its place; bitterness, hate and a vow for revenge.
Consumed by darkness, Will descends into a life of reckless living; booze and women the outlet for his guilt and despair. But meeting Sarah a beautiful young woman running from her own ghosts, changes everything. Finding his salvation in her, Will wades into the unfamiliar waters of love. Just when happiness is within his grasp, a familiar face returns to Will’s hometown of Doyle, Tennessee. A wicked twist of fate forces Will to decide between the girl he loves and his need for revenge. Is love enough to save Will from the darkness that endeavors to unravel his sanity?
In this debut romantic drama, When the Crows Fly Low weaves a story full of suspense, loss, and love. It is sure to stay with the reader long after the final page.
- Book Title: When the Crows Fly Low
- Author: V. J. Patterson
- Genre: Romantic suspense
- Length: 374 pages
- Release Date: February 14, 2015
Contacts and Buy-Links
My review: 4 out of 5 stars for When the Crows Fly Low by VJ Patterson
If you like your lovers star-crossed, if you want to charge up your oxytocin levels, or you just love a good cry, you might consider V. J. Patterson’s debut novel, When the Crows Fly Low. In a surprise move, it starts with the ending. But, just as we know what’s going to happen in The Titanic, the story here lies not so much in the ending as in the journey.
It’s 1924 in rural Doyle, Tennessee and eleven-year-old Will Lawson is playing hooky from his farm chores when he spots three crows flying low. His father has explained that the low-flying crows are a sign that a storm is coming. And storm it does, as the boy returns home only to witness his father’s murder–an event so traumatic it will define the rest of his life. Will blames himself for being unable to save his father, while he also sees his rage and desire for revenge as an evil that alienates him from family, friends, and church. In addition, the dyslexia that nobody understood in the early days of the twentieth century further isolates Will as he grows into a young man whose self-medicating includes alcohol and sex. The arrival in Doyle of Sarah—a beautiful young woman from a wealthy, educated background—seems like a chance for redemption. As their mutual attraction blossoms into love, however, Will’s conviction that his soul is ultimately evil, plus the revenge he promised to his father’s murderer threatens their chance at future happiness.
In addition to the story itself, there are several craft aspects that I admire. While Will tells us over and over that he’s evil, we see another side through all of the people who love him. Because he believes in his own damnation, Will never understands that others see good in him—even when that very love saves his life, or when Sarah offers it to save his soul. But above all, I love that Patterson steps away from the love-or-death aspect of most tragedies. While in true tragic-hero mold, Will chooses to walk away from Sarah to protect her from himself, Sarah resolutely refuses to give up the rest of her life and any chance of happiness. She carves a rich life path that includes a full measure of happiness and even love. “Will chose to exist. Sarah chose to live.”
I know that other reviewers of this book have cited comparisons to everything from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Nicholas Spark’s The Notebook. And first time novelist V. J. Patterson does a beautiful job of evoking that star-crossed aspect of two lovers, perfect for each other, but whose timing is that split-second disconnect that misses happiness and lands on tragedy. But for me, the book that kept coming to mind is Olive Ann Burns’ Cold Sassy Tree. It’s also the story of a young man growing up in rural South of the early twentieth century, and trying to understand the relationship between deaths of those he loves and God as he struggles to step away from the close-minded prejudices of his elders. In contrast, in When the Crows Fly Low, it’s those around Will whose unwavering love and belief in him saves him even when he considers himself unworthy.
If I have one complaint about this book, it’s that Patterson never gives us a real feel for the dialog and Southern pattern of life in Tennessee. Everyone pretty much speaks like they’re auditioning for the six-o’clock news. For example, in a speech that gets to the heart of the book’s theme, Will’s Uncle Harley—a struggling Tennessee farmer—says:
“The way I see it is you’ve got two roads lying in front of you. Road one would give you happiness. It would offer you the life every man dreams of. You would have Sarah as your wife. She would carry your children. And I guarantee you, for the first time in a long time, you would be completely happy. All those empty spaces inside you would be filled with love. You would be complete. Road two will only lead to sorrow. This grudge against Cannon will destroy you and possibly those around you. Don’t let this man take another life. Don’t let him take yours.”
Beautiful? Yes. But I have no sense of the man behind the words. Consider as contrast, this from Cold Sassy Tree that tells us so much about the protagonist’s grandfather and mentor as he lies dying:
“We can ast for comfort and hope and patience and courage . . . and we’ll git what we ast for. They ain’t no gar’ntee thet we ain’t go’n have no troubles and ain’t go’n die. But shore as frogs croak and cows bellow, God’ll forgive us if’n we ast Him to.”
Because of her beautiful storyline and message about living with tragedy or building a life despite it, I would not hesitate to give When the Crows Fly Low four stars. V. J. Patterson is obviously a talented writer, and one to watch. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
Please welcome author VJ Patterson as we talk about love, writing, and mosquito trucks. She joins us from Tennessee, where she lives with her husband and two children.
What was your first car? A 95 toyota corolla that burned oil so bad that my husband called it the mosquito truck because I had a stream of black smoke following me everywhere I went. People who live in the south will understand the mosquito truck reference.
Star Wars, Star Trek, or Firefly? Or…? Star Wars…I’ve always had a thing for Anakin Skywalker.
What is the one thing you can’t live without? The one thing I couldn’t live with out is my husband and kids.
Are the names of the characters in your novels significant? Yes the names are significant. The story is loosely based on a family member’s life who lived in the 1930’s. Many of the names are versions of the actual person’s name.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard? I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide— Harper Lee.
What are you working on right now? Right now I’m working on a YA romance. My novels won’t always have a happy endings but they will show real, imperfect love. I’m always fascinated when love is put to the test. Whether it be cancer, an affair, etc. when individuals can love through the darkest hours, I think that is what it’s all about. I love writing the drama, breaking hearts, and mending them. The novel I’m working on now will do all that and more as a young couple decides to chase the evening sun together.
Excerpt from When the Crows Fly Low:
Will Lawson knew the exact moment God left him. The memory came to him while standing at the giant arching entrance gates of Hilltop Gardens, set in the countryside of Doyle, Tennessee. There was an old crumbling church sitting off to the right from where he stood and its holy presence sparked those dim dungeons deep within his mind. For a brief moment, he considered entering the weathered building, to seek solace only God could offer. Feeling drawn to it, he took a few steps toward the church, almost forgetting the choice he’d made forty-five years ago. Oh yeah, he thought to himself, I remember. He felt as if God himself had reached down and smacked him on the wrist. Standing with his gaze locked upon the building one thought resonated above all others, God, Will was confident, offers no solace for murderers.