In my last post, I had promised a book review for mid-January. That did not happen.
Because I’m too darn picky. I got 70 pages into one book before practically throwing it in the trash, and I was three-quarters through another when I decided it was too slow and I was sick of it. I wouldn’t want to recommend those books to you, so here are two books I don’t recommend you read:
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards.
Problems: Narrative inconsistency. I was willing to overlook incessant overdescription and unrelatable female characters because the story’s concept was interesting: a doctor delivers his wife’s twins. One has Down Syndrome, which he can’t bear to tell his wife, so he sends the nurse with the baby to a home for the disabled and tells his wife the second baby died. The nurse, horrified by the home, takes the baby and leaves town.
But the concept wasn’t interesting enough to overlook a third-person narrator who couldn’t agree with herself on how a major character coped with her depression — did she avoid people or did she avoid time by herself? Within the space of four pages, the third-person narrator said both. Not buying it.
The Ingenious Edgar Jones by Elizabeth Garner
Problems: Trying too hard to be literary. At its bones, this is a story about a son trying to win his father’s approval despite their many differences. It could be very moving, if it was a short story. There simply weren’t enough layers to the story or plot to carry it over 200 pages. The whole thing (as far as I read) was: Edgar tries to do this thing to achieve happiness and his father’s approval. His father approves a little bit, but then he finds out more and no longer approves. Edgar tries another thing to win his father’s approval. It sort of works for a little while, until his father learns more and no longer approves. And again and again.
Then the description was overwritten and, often, confusing, because Edgar always sees things as creatures — whether a fallen roof or the inside of a clock — and the narration makes it feel like the story could turn to fantasy at any moment, but it’s not fantasy and it’s never creatures, so reading every fantastical description of yet another creature-like inanimate object, I had to repeatedly remind myself, no, in this book that means that’s how Edgar is seeing it. That’s not how it actually is. Many times this left me with a confused idea of what exactly I was supposed to be seeing.
Garner certainly didn’t use a lot of cliches, because every description — even of familiar items — was a brand new word picture. But you know how they say not to reinvent the wheel? Yeah, cubes don’t roll as well.