Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review: Cradling insanity

Patrick Somerville's The Cradle I feel would make a good Hallmark/Lifetime movie. Granted, I've never seen one, but it has all the elements that I'd assume would make a good film for that world. It's family-based, it's sentimental, and it has a redeeming ending.

It tells the story of married couple Matthew and Marissa Bishop. Marissa is with child and all of a sudden, like a pregnant woman wanting pickles at 2.30 in the morning, she wants her baby to be brought up in the cradle she herself was raised in. It's a civil war cradle. Though not one that her family had since the 1860s; they must have picked it up at some garage sale. But that doesn't matter. She doesn't want the baby to be in any cradle. She wants one with memories already attached. The caveat, it's probably with her mother, and god only knows where she is. Being completely unreasonable she sends Matt off on this wild goose chase, because 'You're Matt. What about my keys? I look for six hours, then you get home and you find them in five minutes.'

Matt, out of husband duty, takes on this tall order and embarks on a small road trip with help from ridiculously estranged characters who get him closer and closer to his goal. It feels a bit hokey that all of the people he meets along the way are insane or deranged in one way or another - an old woman and her Star Trek loving stay-at-home son, Marissa's family who believes in psychics and bizarre energy fields. Although they may fit in some heroic quest, this novella doesn't really lift far enough off the ground, off a light level in order to permit such wild eccentricities.

On top of that, another story is told, about 10 years later, about a woman who's about to send her son off to the Iraq War. She's unhappy about it, but the son feels that it's his American duty. She's a poet turned children's book writer (she used to write the stories for her own son), she's lived through Vietnam. And she's holding a secret back from her husband and her son. It's not hard to see what this secret is, and you'll assume it pretty early in the work. And this second story kind of hurts the rhythm of this short novel, which feels more like two overlong linked tales. That's not to say that it's not heartwarming, and when Somerville gets the tension right he nails it. There are even hints, sans the socialism, of George Eliot's Silas Marner. But overall The Cradle probably could have done with some expansion, with patience, and with more trust in the reader.


Kari said...

Wow, Sal. Gotta say, this doesn't strike me as a book that you'd read...especially with that description of Lifetime movie at the beginning of your review!

However, it sounds like a story I would read. It's interesting that the author took on two stories within a short novella...bold move.

Salvatore said...

haha What can I say? The book was around, people were talking about it, it had to be read. Perhaps I was expecting something different. Or maybe I was being too hard on the book.