Monday, January 9, 2012

Reading Roundup: A Collection of So-So Characters

In a, once again, frantic attempt to catch up on all the books I'm reading, I'm posting a reading round-up. In this case, it is especially necessary because I found all these books to be just "meh" and I don't have too much to say about them. What made them "meh?" Their characters.

Carol Shields' The Stone Diaries is supposedly a modern classic, winning the Pulitzer in 1995. It's the story of Daisy Goodwill Flett, from her birth in 1905 through marriage, children, middle age, and to her death towards the end of the century. What's so interesting about this story is the perspective. You can never really get a grasp on who is telling the story. Sometimes, it's Daisy; sometimes friends; sometimes children; sometimes it feels like an omniscient, unknown narrator. This perspective, however many of them there are, provides a broader look at Daisy, allows the reader to approach her from different angles and see, perhaps, what tiny part of her influenced a decision or a behavior.

Well, as much as we learn about Daisy, I never really liked her. She just seemed so emotionless and indifferent. I never felt she actively participated in the life about which we were reading, which was a life full of emotional events. Never seeing her emotions led me to find her a little cold and distant and therefore unrelatable as a main character. I think this would be a good book to read with a group for a discussion but reading alone left me flat.


The Cradle by Patrick Somerville is essentially a short little book about a crazy pregnant wife sending demanding crazy things from her husband because of a pregnant whim. I'm certain the author intended a deeper message, but that's how it appears in a nutshell to me. The pregnant Marissa sends her husband, Matthew, on a quest for a Civil War era cradle she once slept in that disappeared when Marissa's own mother disappeared when Marissa was a teenager. Matthew's quest takes him throughout the midwest like a scavenger hunt, meeting really weird, terrible people along the way. In another story and a decade later, a teenager boy is shipping off to Iraq, and his mother, Renee, is having a hard time facing it. Renee's got issues of her own, though, as memories of her own tragic past are starting to surface.

Now, obviously these two stories are going to connect to create a bigger message about love, family, etc etc. I think the writing was very good, and I'm grateful that the author knew how to pace and how much to write, so the story did not unnecessarily go on for another hundred pages (as often happens). However, once again, I didn't much care for the characters. Marissa just seemed a little crazy and demanding because Somerville didn't throw in any redeeming qualities. I may have sympathized with her more had she been more fully fleshed out to appear a more normal person just going through a crazy hormonal time. As a result, Matthew just seemed whipped. He had issues of his own which explained much of his mentality, but there was just something missing. I didn't dislike him, but I also didn't overly like him. Actually, that's pretty a pretty good summation of how I felt about all the characters.


Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife has been a bestseller (so the cover says), and I think this is why: America was just turned on by it. Holy Batman, this book had a lot of sex in it. A lot of detailed sex that I was not expecting. This is the story of a man in the early 1900s who places an ad in a newspaper for a reliable wife and gets a response from a "simple, honest woman." Now, this is a thriller, so obviously she is anything but, and his intentions weren't so pure either. Many of you probably already know about this plot, so I won't go into anymore depth, but unsurprisingly, the plot thickens as deceit is revealed and love becomes a game-changer.

I read the second half of this on a bus to DC, so I have to say, uninterrupted, I couldn't put it down. But that doesn't necessarily mean I liked it a lot. Once again, the characters were just bleh. I couldn't really connect with them, and though I was racing through to find out how the story ends, that's all I cared about: the end. I didn't care how it ended, nor what happened to any of the characters. I enjoyed this one the most of these three books, but it was still a rather dark story.


Jenny said...

I'm sort of glad to hear that A Reliable Wife was just so so because I feel like it's one of those good ones I'm supposed to read and I've never been able to get to it. I did read a sample on my nook once but never decided to read more!

steph_h said...

I had similarly meh reactions to two of the books you mention here, though I admit I never finished them as a result! I just couldn't get into The Stone Diaries, despite all the praise, and A Reliable Wife felt really awkwardly written, and that was without having read anything involving sex! Both of those books just felt so lackluster to me, but if I had to try one of them again, it would probably be the Shields.

Kari said...

Evidence you should keep listening to your gut instinct! Must mean something that you never went back to it!

Kari said...

Like I said, I think the Shields would be good for a discussion. I almost feel I can make that sweeping statement about all Pulitzer winners. They just seem to be so rich in depth that there are many things there to think about simultaneously, and a discussion can really foster a better experience with the story.