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Sunday, July 11, 2010


By Susanna Daniel
(3/5 stars)

I think the simplest way to sum this up is to say:  If you liked "The Stone Diaries" you'll like this book.  I thought "The Stone Diaries" was an exercise in tedium, so there you go.

The problem with this book is that the life of the narrator Frances is so ordinary that it's dull.  I always say that if I want to read about an ordinary life I can read my journal.  The reason most of us read books is that we want to read about lives that aren't ordinary, about people who have experiences that we ourselves don't have in our ordinary lives.  Until a terminal illness is thrown in for the last third of the book, there's nothing that even remotely qualifies as anything extraordinary.

The more cynical reader of this review would sneer and say I want car chases and explosions and that.  No.  I would appreciate some kind of conflict and drama, though.  Really, Frances goes through the first fifty years of her life without anyone dying.  By the time I was half that I'd lost both grandfathers plus numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins.  That's just symptomatic of the problem that really nothing of interest happens through the first 2/3 of the book.

Here's what happens:  a woman named Frances goes from Atlanta to Miami with a friend and they go to this place called Stiltsville, which is a group of houses off the coast of Miami built on stilts.  She meets a man named Dennis.  They date, get married, and have a kid.  There you go.

On rare occasions you can get away with telling an ordinary story.  I point to "Breathing Lessons" by Anne Tyler as the gold standard for that.  But to be successful, you have to really make the characters and their world come to life.  You have to make the ordinary seem extraordinary.  The mistake the author makes is writing this as a first-person story.  Frances' narration is about as interesting as talking on the phone with my mom.  Her voice is dull and that makes her life seem dull.

The terminal illness at the end almost redeems this, but it comes too late.  Anyway, I'm a guy so I'm not really the target audience.  I imagine women might find it a better read.  Though why they want to read something that would only reinforce the dullness of their own lives is beyond me.  (But hey, if I knew anything about women I'd be a lot further along.)

That is all.

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