These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

True Enough

True Enough by Stephen McCauley

March 27, 2006

Whenever I write down what I thought of a book I've read, the ones I feel ambivalent about like "True Enough" are the hardest to write. It's easy to find something to say when you really love or really hate a book; it's much harder when you don't really care about what you've just read.

For myself, I think the problem is so many of these social satires written with ironic detachment ("The Sportswriter" by Richard Ford comes to mind) leave me feeling empty. In part I think it's because while I'm optimist I'm jaded enough to already know love stinks and life stinks. If that's all you got, then it's not enough. Tell me something I didn't already know. Or at the very least, feed my naive notions that true love exists and life can get better.

But to be fair, "True Enough" is amusing and often funny as a satire about the whiny pseudocrises of upper-middle-class Easterners. My favorite part is when Jane gets out of her car to confront the impatient soccer mom in the SUV. I'd need several more limbs to count the number of times I've wanted to do that sort of thing.

If you don't already know, the plot involves Desmond, a gay man in New York having trouble with his long-term relationship to Russell, and Jane, a woman in suburban Boston having trouble with her long-term relationship to Thomas. Desmond gets a temporary teaching job in Boston while finishing his biography on an unknown torch singer. This brings him into contact with Thomas, who teaches in the same department, and by extension, Jane. Jane is losing her job at a public TV station to her go-getting assistant Chloe. Jane is secretly seeing her ex-husband Dale on the side, at first at the behest of her friend who is having trouble in her long-term relationship with Dale. What starts as drinks eventually becomes much more. In the meantime, she gets an idea to do a series of documentaries on minor celebrities like the singer Desmond is writing about. They start working together even as their relationships seem to be going to Hell and in the end wind up in Florida during a tropical storm to inverview the singer's daughter. There's more, but I won't spoil the surprise ending.

I felt a little cheated at the end where the author switches to the viewpoint of Rosemary, Jane's cynical friend who made a mint on a teary memoir of her husband's death. The switch kept me as the reader from really knowing how things had worked out for Jane and Desmond about a year after the Florida excursion.

For the most part while reading this I kept waiting for something exciting to happen, but nothing ever did. Even the big surprise at the end elicited a yawn. Too little, too late for the big shock. After lulling me into a detached-ironic-stupor for 300 pages, why try to shake me out of it in the last 15?

I don't have any complaints about the writing itself, nor did I find anything to rave about in that area. Which is symptomatic of the whole thing. At the end I shrug and say, "So what?"

The whole point seems to be that love and life doesn't work out as we planned. To quote a very popular movie, "Well I'm glad you're here to tell us these things." I'd never have figured that out on my own. So what?

That is all.

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