This is the third novel in my Canada Reads 2009 series of posts. I’ve heard a lot of good things about David Adams Richards. I don’t remember any of them off hand but I at least have this idea in my head that he’s supposed to be a decent author. He spoke at my high school graduation, but I don’t remember anything that he actually said, so I have very little to go on here going into this book.
Unfortunately I don’t have my copy handy, so I can’t go back and look for all my little bookdarts, reminding me of what I liked and didn’t. What I do remember is that most of it falls under the latter.
There were many simple reasons I didn’t like this book. I found the narration dull, and I tended to notice how the writing style was annoying me more than what was actually written. The really unfortunate thing was that there were quite a few good events in the book that could have been used to make a very gripping scene, but all the potential excitement was wasted. There are a few pivotal moments that are built up as being life-changing for the characters, but when the actual time comes they’re mentioned almost only in passing. “And then that thing I’ve been saying was so important happened. Now back to that bit about the cheese.”
In the end this book went on too long, failed to elicit much emotion for its confusing web of characters, and left out all its own exciting parts. The fact that it took place in rural New Brunswick was cool, but novelty of setting isn’t enough to make a good novel. Of the four books I’ve read so far (only Book of Negroes is left), this is the first one I’m voting out of the running.
Edit (2009-08-01): I found my copy of the book, and I had marked exactly two passages. One was just an inane detail that bugged me at the time but isn’t really important. The other was a passage that I found moving, and since it was the only good part I bothered to mark I would venture that it is the best part. This is one of the characters speaking in chapter 12 of the last part (“Love”):
I remember once Elly was trying to tell me a story — it was a story about Vincent Van Gogh — tht Dad had told her, but she had no idea who he was. I was in a school play about a painter. That’s why she wanted to tell it. Dad was not home and she felt it her duty. She kept getting more and more mixed up trying to tell it just like Dad. Let me tell you how she told this story.
She sat with her hands on her lap, and smoothed her dress.
Yes — exactly — and she tried to talk very sophisticated about him and his paintings. But she became more and more confused, and Dad wasn’t at home to help her, and she seemed to look about the room for him. I couldn’t help it, I burst out laughing. I know I hurt her feelings. She had worked her gumption up to tell me a story like Dad might, but she didn’t remember the details — and I had laughed at her. So she stopped talking, and tried to remember something else about him, and couldn’t. But I had hurt her heart, Lyle — I had hurt her tender heart.