Another one of those loathsome in-character reviews

God, I really, really, really, really, really hate it when reviewers do this. Should I read the book? Well, I'll have to make that decision based on information from somewhere else.

Await Your Reply

Is it time yet?  Can we start talking about the book?  I doubt I'll get very deep, as that's not how I felt about the book.  I felt the book was a kind of surface, somehow, ranging horizontally across space rather than vertically through levels of consciousness.  I read the thing in three days.  One night it kept me up till 4 in the morning.  Long time since a book's done that, but I don't read a lot of whodunits or thrillers.  Maybe they all do it.

I really liked the almost freakishly calm style of describing creepy events, and I appreciated the plain cleanliness of that style.  This was a book all about character and story -- no fancy stuff, as Frank would say.  I thought it was cool how the three storylines ever so gradually approached each other, and I thought even more of Chaon when I read later in an interview that at first he had no idea how the stories were connected, that they began as images, and he just followed them all, trusting that his subconscious would do the work, until he figured it all out toward the end of the writing (and as his wife was dying).

Miles was the most attractive to me in his self-conscious but helpless obsession, and Hayden was all the more vivid for appearing off-page (or apparently so) for so long.  And I sympathized with Lucy in her better-than-it-was-but-wtf attitude.  Looked forward to her sections, and my favorite part of the book was her feeling her way through Africa.  I didn't care for Ryan for some reason.  He was too weak for me -- weak in an annoying way, as opposed to Miles' endearing weakness.

That said -- and I'm quoting now from someone's comments on a workshop story of mine -- I'm not sure what it all added up to.  What was my "takeaway," what did it reveal about human nature?  Nothing I hadn't already thought about.  What surprised me?  Not a lot.  I must have picked up the exact right clues along the way, and I'm usually not that good at solving mysteries.  What did it teach me about writing?  It reinforced "trust the reader" by being so spare but so precise in detail.  And it demonstrated that atmosphere and background really do color a book -- his descriptions of landscapes (especially Nebraska), I thought, were effective and truly enhanced whatever mood was on offer at the time.  But the book hasn't stayed with me that much.  I haven't found myself re-caught in its language or visuals, as happens with a lot of other books.  And here's my test:  If someone asked whether I'd recommend it, I see myself shrugging...


Non-literary Holiday Question

We're looking for present ideas for a sparkly five-year old girl S. Santa's bringing one big present for each kid, this year, and her brother, C. (aged 8), helped things along by making a long list from catalogs. We've settled on a nifty race-car set for him. It will take up a lot of floor space and will probably draw attention from grandad . . . and maybe dad, too. So, we're looking for a present for S. that she'll like and play with and/or use; and that will also--this is important to S.--seem equal to what her brother got. Any ideas out there? She likes to draw and color; started the piano this year; and is learning to spell at a great pace. She likes to look pretty, but doesn't play a lot of dress-up. She's asked for a laptop (Haven't we all?), yet doesn't play much with the leapster she asked for last year. We can go as much as $125-150, but it's not the price so much as the effect. When C. is lying there racing formula one cars against his granddad, we want S. to feel just as proud of her . . . . .