Picky Reader – 13

The End of an Error by Mameve Medwed.  If you’re a middle-aged woman who didn’t marry her first love and who’s ever wondered about the road not taken, this is the book for you.  I’m a bit surprised I finished this book, but I must have done so because I wanted to see what choice Lee makes.  It could have gone either way.  On some level I could identify with her struggle.  I have to admit I wasn’t too crazy about her husband, Ben.  He personified all the negative traits of every long-married man:  self-centered, smug, condescending, who at times belittles his wife and then pretends that wasn’t his intent.  You might see a bit of your husband in him and it might also make you long for your first love.  Seriously, don’t we all from time to time assure ourselves, “There must be something better out there.”  If we only had the gumption to find it and grab onto it when we do.  This book is an exploration of that feeling.

The Dead Lie Down by Sophie Hannah.  I’d never read Sophie Hannah before but I probably will again.  She weaves a complex story together and writes it well.  One caveat, lots of flashbacks, some of which I felt were used merely to add suspense or at least pique the reader’s curiosity about the behavior of the character.  This sort of purposeful manipulation isn’t something I personally care for, but evidently am willing to overlook since I finished the book and would read more by Sophie Hannah.

Something’s Missing by Matthew Dicks.  Clever, clever story, clever and unusual plot.  Be forewarned, however, there is a lot of narrative.  In fact, I put this book down after 24 pages and picked up something else not sure if I’d go back to it or not.  You are completely in the main character’s head and he works alone, lives alone and doesn’t socialize often.  Until he befriends an African gray parrot in one of his “client’s” homes, there is virtually no dialogue.  The book is well-researched and filled with so much detail about how easily a home can be broken into none of us should feel safe.  How Mr. Dicks made a thief a sympathetic character is beyond me, but the character of Martin grows by leaps and bounds when his clients’ best interests begin to take precedence over his own.

Finny by Justin Kramon.  Why oh why have I not learned to look at the information about the author before I pick up a book.  Swarthmore College;   Iowa Writers’ Workshop: Literary Fiction.  It’s sometimes hard to tell what you’re getting by looking at the cover.  Often I enjoy literary fiction, but sometimes I just don’t get it.

With this one I simply don’t get it.  What is this story about?  How/why did it get published?  I’m at a loss.  In my head I keep hearing a multi-published author critique my work and write a dissertation about how in any novel a character must have a goal and it should be evident to the reader by the end of the first chapter.  I disagree with her about that because I’ve read lots and lots of books where I had no clue about anyone’s goal by the end of the first chapter and sometimes I couldn’t even tell what the book was about.  Maybe this is only true of romance fiction.  Or commercial fiction.  However, at some point, you would expect the main characters’ goals to become clear.  Does Finny have a goal?  It isn’t obvious to me.  Is this a fictional biography?  A memoir of sorts?  Because that’s how it reads.  It’s a coming of age story, really.  It’s about what happens as a young girl grows up and matures.  Where she goes, who she meets, relationships she has.  But does she have a goal?  If she does I’m not smart enough to pick up on it.  Maybe she just wants to get away from her family where she doesn’t feel like she fits in.  Not a very unusual goal for a teenager, but perhaps that is her goal.  Mostly it seems to me, the title character drifts through her own story.

Something else that nags me about this book is the time period in which it’s set, which is…I don’t know.  It has the feel almost of the 70’s, based on the behavior of the characters.  There are no cell phones or texting.  I can’t find or recall any mention of the year in which it’s set or at least in what year the story begins and that bothers me.  Some of the behavior of the characters seems downright old-fashioned, but then about halfway through the book when five years have passed, one of the characters has a computer on her desk.  No mention is made of the internet, however, or anything else exactly current day, so I’m left feeling a bit lost.  In what decade was a phone card used on a regular basis by college students?  How long have we been referring to flight attendants as opposed to stewardesses?  Playing a tape on a VCR?  Is this the 1980’s?

There’s also a lot of “tell” as opposed to “show.”  And some asides, such as a dissertation on what a poor driver Finny’s mother is that border on author intrusion.

What redeems this book now that I’ve listed all the issues I have with it?  As usual, it comes back to the writing.  It is well-written.  The characters are distinctive enough (some are downright odd) to not be boring which is a plus.  Still I wish I had a better sense of what Finny wants and what time period it’s set in.

Self Storage by Gayle Brandeis.  A purely lovely novel, although I had my doubts at the start.  There is a Walt Whitman thread running through the story and plenty of lines from his poetry sprinkled in at appropriate intervals.  I enjoyed the mix of old with present day or well, at least the setting is in this decade.  Flan is a character with depth and there’s a lot of character growth for just about every character in the book. 

Someone asked me recently what makes me pick up a particular book.  I don’t know.  The cover?  The title?  I do often check to see who published it and when.  There are certain imprints I won’t bother to read.  Usually, I guess it’s something about the cover although at the library, you’re looking at spines, so it’s the spine that might make me pick out a particular book.  But now I notice the blurbs from other authors on the back of Self Storage, which I didn’t read or notice when I picked it up.  One is from Amanda Eyre Ward, author of How To Be Lost, which I read, loved and mentioned in a previous Picky Reader Blog.  Another is Jacquelyn Mitchard, who, if I’m not mistaken, writes a fairly regular column in Parade magazine.  And then there’s Barbara Kingsolver.  I’ll admit I didn’t make it through The Poisonwood Bible, but I loved some of her earlier stuff.  Gayle Brandeis is in good company.