Sunday, January 8, 2017

Miller's Valley

by Anna Quindlen
Dec 26, 2016-Jan 8, 2017

I never read the book jacket before I start a new novel. I like to form my own opinions and wait until I'm finished with the book. After finishing Miller's Valley this morning and reading the synopsis only one word comes to mind: gratuitous. Wow, does that description make this book sound way better than it is. Reviews have called it "quiet" but in my opinion quiet translates to "boring."

I mean, how is eminent domain an interesting topic? Especially when it's mentioned throughout but never really explored thoroughly. It takes 20 years for it to come to fruition, but by that time, it just didn't matter. I am just now finding out that "drowned towns" are actually a thing, but a little back story at the beginning would have been helpful in adding interest. Otherwise, I kept wondering, who cares?

My main takeaway is that these shallowly-drawn characters deserved better. Quindlen is better than that. It was like looking through a dirty window into their lives only to get a little bit, but not quite enough. Why wasn't the idea of Ruth being a shut-in explored more? Oh wait, the big reveal comes in the last five percent of the book when it's really too little, too late. Mimi's friends are all total jerks yet she doesn't see it. Again, quiet = boring. The subjects introduced throughout deserved so much more time and attention than they were given.

It's astonishing how many four- and five-star reader reviews are out there. I am clearly in the minority. I just think this book dabbled in too many subjects, trying to tackle all the major coming-of-age ones, when it would have been better off focusing on a few of the more interesting topics. I loved Quindlen's earlier novels, but I've really been disappointed of late.


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Monday, January 2, 2017

I'll Take You There

by Wally Lamb
Dec. 15-25, 2016

Waiting for a new Wally Lamb novel is like waiting for Christmas. So exciting and always curious as to what subject he will tackle next. But for the first time, I admit I was a bit disappointed. He's a master storyteller, no doubt, but this was not what I expect from him. He writes women better than most female authors, but this time he lacked depth, seriousness and even length. The reason I wait patiently for his next release is because they are usually quite heavy – in subject matter as well as page-count. Greatness takes time.

So when I found out that we were revisiting the life of Felix from Wishin' and Hopin', I wasn't overly excited. I just read that short (for Lamb) story and mentioned that I felt it was a bit gratuitous. Of all the characters in all the novels he's written, why choose this one? As an adult, Felix looks back on his childhood through the help of ghosts in a theatre. Really?! I have trouble suspending reality with no real explanation if the book isn't advertised as a "ghost story" in the first place. This made zero sense to me. Even famous people returned from the dead to speak to Felix. The whole thing felt too gimmicky and honestly unnecessary. The story would have been much better told if Felix was simply reminiscing about his childhood and his relationship with his sisters. And I never thought I'd even utter a word like this when describing a Wally Lamb book, but the dialogue was corny. It pains me to say this.

Because of my devotion to Lamb, I'm going to give him a pass on this one. I've said many times in this blog that I've read She's Come Undone at least five times, so that in itself is reason enough to let this one go. I'll just have to eagerly await the next great book. Like Christmas.


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