Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt was the latest pick for the Anderson Family Book Club. And opinions on this one ranged from indifference to almost outright disdain. Which was a shame because we had all eagerly anticipated reading this book and several of us were hoping to read it on our own even if it wasn’t selected for book club. Let me provide the summary:
In Leavitt’s (Girls in Trouble, 2005) compelling new novel, a car crash provides the catalyst for an examination of how well we know the people we love. April and Isabelle, both fleeing their marriages, collide on a foggy, deserted stretch of road. Only Isabelle survives, and though blameless, she is haunted by guilt. In search of healing, she finds herself drawn to Charlie and Sam, April’s grief-stricken husband and son. Complicated relationships develop, and Leavitt thoughtfully handles friendship and romance in scenes of emotional resonance. She understands the ache of loss, the elusiveness of forgiveness, and the triteness of words like “closure.” An expert storyteller, Leavitt alternates perspective among her three leading characters, providing insight into the thoughts, secrets, and dreams that they withhold from each other. Whether these individuals will arrive at happiness separately or together is the question that drives the narrative, and the reader, forward as Leavitt teases suspense out of the greatest mystery of all—the workings of the human heart.
Sounds nice, right? Was not. Was bad. Bad bad. Here are my reasons why:
- Dislikable Characters- neither April or Isabelle are likable. Neither have many redeeming qualities. April leaves her family for a reason never explained, and as she is described in retrospect after her death, she seems immature, selfish, and maybe a little crazy. Isabelle basically becomes the main character after the accident. She will not leave April’s widower and son alone! I mean it is creepy!
- Characters’ motivations are underdeveloped- as mention in #1, I never got a great sense of why April ran away from her family. I never understood why Isabelle was stalking this other family. And I just didn’t care about the host of secondary characters; they were two-dimensional.
- Implausibility, cliches, and coincidences- I can only believe people can “run into each other” so many times, you know?
- Pace was “rushed”- I am a firm believer that pacing and timing are integral to the mood of a novel. I love a fast-pasted thriller, or the slow-building of a scary story or even a romance. This was just rushed. And in the rush there were numerous inconsistencies that were never address and resolved. Made the writing seem lazy and unplanned.
- Strange ending- the book ends with Sam as an adult. It was strangely out of place. It did not end anything to the story, and it certainly did not tie up loose ends. It felt tacked on.
Okeedokee, that’s how I felt about the book. It was also the general consensus in our book club. Which was very interesting- we often agree on books we like, but never have we all disliked the same book! Hopefully the next book club selection will be more enjoyable.
Total Books Read: 3
Favorite Book: The Little Stranger
Least Favorite: American Fantastic Tales Volume 2
WTF Emily Bronte? What a bizarre book you have written. And who thinks this drivel is romantic? Not I, that’s for sure.
Summary from Barnes and Noble:
Emily Brontë’s only novel, Wuthering Heights remains one of literature’s most disturbing explorations into the dark side of romantic passion. Heathcliff and Cathy believe they’re destined to love each other forever, but when cruelty and snobbery separate them, their untamed emotions literally consume them.
Set amid the wild and stormy Yorkshire moors, Wuthering Heights, an unpolished and devastating epic of childhood playmates who grow into soul mates, is widely regarded as the most original tale of thwarted desire and heartbreak in the English language.
Yes, Barnes and Noble summary, “cruelty and snobbery” do separate them. BUT IT IS THEIR OWN CRUELTY AND SNOBBERY. These are not victims, they are horrible people! And two horrible people who love each other does not romantic make. Yes, it is refreshing when two lovers are not perfect, but really I was disgusted time and time again. Heathcliff and Cathy manage to make everyone around them miserable. I found Wuthering Heights to be melodramatic, and the characters totally unsympathetic. Blah.
Total Books Read: 2
Favorite Book: In the Garden of Beasts
Least Favorite: Robinson Crusoe
Total Books Read: 6
Favorite Book: The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag
Least Favorite: Jude the Obscure
Over the summer I read the psychological thriller, Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson. This book had been getting a lot of buzz, and I was in the mood for a book that would capture me. And this one delivered.
Before I Go to Sleep is the story of Christine, a woman with a form of amnesia in which all her memories since her twenties are wiped every night when she sleeps. Each morning she awakes in a foreign house and must face the aged face in the mirror. Each morning her husband, Ben, must explain the life that they lead together. And each night Christine sets her head down to sleep and forgets it all. But then she starts a journal. And inside she writes “Don’t Trust Ben”.
The greatest strength of the story is the masterful pacing. Yes, it is slightly repetitive- after all, Christine must rediscover herself everyday. But this only lends itself the the fantastically sinister tone of the novel. Watson does a superb job of timing each new revelation, each new event, so that the reader is anticipating the turn of every page. Christine is engaging, as is her therapist, Dr. Nash.
But the story isn’t perfect. If you read it, you will realize that the premise itself is a bit implausible. I agree. Shake off your disbelief and enjoy the ride. I will also say that I feel like amnesia is becoming a recurrent plot device. Finally, I’d avoid working too hard to “solve” the story, and just emerse yourself completely in Christine’s journey, because Watson succeeds more in this than in coming up with a perfect resolution.
Posted in Best Sellers, Book Reviews, General Fiction
Tagged Amnesia, Before I Go to Sleep, Best Sellers, book review, books, Fiction, reviews, S.J. Watson, Thriller
Total Books Read: 6
Favorite Book: Before I Go to Sleep
Least Favorite: Pictures of You
Total Books Read: 4
Favorite Book: Impatient with Desire
Least Favorite: 31 Bond Street
I had such a great reading month, and then I never posted! So finally, here’s a recap!
Total Books: 9!!!!!
Favorite Book: Hurry Down Sunshine
Least Favorite: Bitter is the New Black (sorry Kristine!)
And the new books added to my (way too long) TBR list include….
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson. Great topic, and who didn’t love his Devil in the White City! Super excited about this one.
This book has been getting tons of buzz. The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer caught my eye a few weeks ago when it was on several websites. Here’s the summary from Booklist:
Life begins to imitate art when Stellar Plains’ edgy new drama teacher decides to stage Lysistrata as the high school’s annual production. Faculty, administrators, and students alike are literally enchanted by Aristophanes’ mordant antiwar comedy. Women and girls who are otherwise happily married or in a blossoming relationship suddenly decide to withhold their affections from their husbands, lovers, and boyfriends. The once passionate sex life of popular English teachers Robby and Dory Lang abruptly ends, as does the nascent relationship of their daughter Willa, who sharply breaks up with her first boyfriend. Most affected of all, however, is Marissa Clayborn, the charismatic young black girl cast in the play’s lead, who decides to stage her own bed-in sex strike in protest of the war in Afghanistan. When Marissa fails to appear on opening night, all hell breaks loose as spurned men storm the stage demanding the resumption of normal relations.
First of all, if you haven’t read Justin Evans’ A Good and Happy Child, do it. Cause it’s freakin weird, in an awesome way. And so now I cannot resist his next- The White Devil. Hope it is as equally bizarre!