Life Is A Canvas
by Joy Elan
Publication Date: Jan 28, 2016
List Price: $14.99 (store prices may vary)
Page Count: 178
Publisher: On-Demand Publishing LLC
Parent Company: Amazon.com, Inc.
Read CreateSpace’s description of Life Is A Canvas
Book Reviewed by Carol Taylor
Life is a Canvas is a contemporary novel about finding love and self and how the choices we make early in life, particularly in our twenties, sets us on a path, positively or negatively, for the rest of our life.
Allegra Johnson is a go-getter. She graduated from college in three years, and got her master’s degree in one. At 23 she has secured a $75,000 grant to start a company, Mane Attraction. I didn’t understand this play on the word “Mane/Main” since the business doesn’t have anything to do with hair. It is a cafe in the early hours, then a lounge with live music during the evening where artists can perform spoken word or rap. Allegra wants to give “the youth a platform to perform and share their talents.” Elan is also a spoken word poet, and it is clear that this is an area she is passionate about.
There are many parallels between Allegra and Elan. Like Allegra, Elan is hearing impaired. She went to UC Berkley and Stanford University for grad school and both studied African American Studies and Education. They are both from Oakland and Berkley.
Set mostly in San Francisco and the Bay area, early in the story, Allegra visits her best friend Leelah, who is going to school in Europe. They travel together to Paris, Nice and London. This would seem an excellent opportunity to add a lot of description and color but I barely got a feel of the ambiance of these colorful cities. Paris is relegated mostly to the names of places—The Eiffel Tower, St. Chappelle, the Latin Quarter—without any real description to transport me there. This is due to the writing, which is a little pedestrian; relaying information the reader doesn’t always need to know at the expense of detail. For instance the reader does not need to know where exactly Allegra sat in a Thai restaurant “on the left in the middle of the room.” I’d rather know what the restaurant looks like, which would add some needed color.
Luckily we don’t linger anywhere too long. The pace moves quickly. In the space of 20 pages 4 months had flown by. This is both a positive and a negative. The story progresses but I often felt a disconnection between what is happening and why. For example, while Allegra is in the sauna after working out, a man enters, looks at her oddly then leaves, but it’s never explained why. In Paris she plays “Drinking Uno” with Leelah, and they get drunk. Leelah passes out and Allegra feels hot and has sexual urges. She steps out onto the hotel balcony. “While on the balcony, I felt a sexual urge. Was it because I was in Paris or was it because I was horny? Maybe it was s combination of both. I began to feel on myself and I did not care if anyone saw me. I released some tension. The release must have been too much because my body went into shock and I started to feel sick… Before I made it to the toiled, I vomited. When I was done, I saw some blood on the wall. I started to have a a panic attack because I was scared about what was happening to me.” I imagine she drank too much but why was there blood? But like quite a few things, this is never explained. The dialogue also read, at times, as a little juvenile. “She busted out laughing.” And “No ‘cuz my grandma’s house was boring. There was nowhere to go and I stayed in the house, watching music videos on the Box channel.”
Allegra has a trust fund, which allows her to work part-time so she can pursue her ambitions. Aside from speaking to her mother once, she doesn't mention her family or her upbringing. So the reader doesn’t know how they came to their wealth, which would have added some much needed layers to the story. Elan brings up polarizing issues, like abortion, religion, and class, but they seem cursory. She doesn’t dwell on them, or carry them through the narrative for these issues to resonate or have an impact. Though the book was copyrighted in 2016 the story felt dated because of nineties and early 2000’s pop culture references, like Omarion, Keyshia Cole, New Edition, Teena Marie and Eric Benet. As well as Girls Gone Wild and Candace Bushnell’s Trading Up.
Allegra is hearing impaired. She suffered hearing loss due to complications at birth. She has gone through school and her early twenties struggling to finding a lasting love connection, at times, because of it. This was the most interesting aspect of the story. It was insightful to have a view into how people with hearing loss live day-to-day. For instance, when Allegra’s home phone rings her lights flash so she knows it is ringing. This perspective also illuminated some things that affect hearing impaired people such as closed captioning on TV. And I’d never considered that sign language is different in different languages, so French sign language will be different from English sign language. I wished Elan had spent more time exploring Allegra’s life as a hearing impaired person. It was an enlightening look into this world, which is a one we don’t often see and one I didn’t know much about. I would recommend the book for that, and also for the relationship between Allegra and her best friend, Leelah. Despite their disagreements, their relationship is charming and appealing and makes you yearn for a bestie just like her. And if you like contemporary fiction with touches of erotic writing you’ll find a few passages here to enjoy.
The book ended abruptly on page 174 on the first page of Chapter 20. I’m not sure if it is supposed to be a cliffhanger, since it stopped at a point in the story where it could be. If this is indeed how the book was meant to end, and not a printing error, there is definitely a better way to have done it, one that would not leave the reader guessing.
Life is a Canvas is Elan’s fourth book. Although I like the author, for her can-do entrepreneurial spirit, more than I liked the book, I hope that she keeps writing. There is a joyfulness (as the author’s name implies) to Allegra. She charges ahead in life, despite any perceived handicaps, resolute not to change to fit the world, but to change the world to fit her ambitions. It would however, be wise for Elan to hone her writing, to take creative writing classes and work with a professional editor to polish her work to reach the broadest commercial audience possible. I also wish, in her next book, she’ll focus more on Allegra’s perspective as a hearing impaired person and what she can teach us about the struggles as that relates to her relationships, society and her life. This enlightening perspective isn’t one we often see.