Ooof. Based on some of the reviews, I had medium-to-high hopes for this book. Maybe it's worth two stars - maybe - but my initial impressions are... e...moreOoof. Based on some of the reviews, I had medium-to-high hopes for this book. Maybe it's worth two stars - maybe - but my initial impressions are... er... bad. EDIT: I've given it some time: one star. (And I'm rounding up.)
While the novel's concept is a decent jumping off point, the author's writing style just killed it for me. ("Killed" in the unfavorable context.) Ishiguro is horribly repetitive, grinding out long, unnecessary sentences creating by far the longest 300 page book I've ever waded my way through. Perhaps a representative sample (made up by me) of the author's writing style will give you an idea? Here's ya go:
"Sally was a dear friend of mine. When I say Sally was a friend, I mean that she and I were the same year at school and spent time together from time to time. Sally and I would often treat one another as friends, doing friendly things of all manner. When I say we did friendly things together, I mean that many of our activities were done in the context of friendship - whether just the two of us or in a group of friends. Our friendship was something that our friendship was based upon, and the friendliness was something that was dear to me while we were in school together."
That. For 300 pages.
It's not depth. It's not subtlety. It's not nuance. It's... dull repetition. If Shakespeare is correct that "Brevity is the soul of wit", Ishiguro just might be a soul-sucking zombie, whose wit died out in some previous work. And you should barricade your home.
Yes, the story's eerie tone helps entice the reader. At first. Think a mash-up of PD James' "Children of Men" and Michael Bay's "The Island" (ouch). But this was never meant to be the focus of the story. (Readers expecting/waiting for a big "A-ha!" moment -- due to the story's setup -- will be disappointed; this is not The Sixth Sense or Witness for the Prosecution.) Rather, this book is intended as a longgggggggg, slowwwwwwww, blunt-force trauma commentary on individuality, racial/class divisions, and how nasty school children can be to one another. Unfortunately, any subtlety is maddeningly blown apart by -- have I mentioned it before? -- the author's repeated insistence to have his narrator repeat herself right after she's done restating what she's just said a few times. (She's boring.)
Sadly (yes, "for me"), this came off as yet another "No matter who you are, life is bleak and sucks... and then we all die" tale with little redeeming value beyond spurring me toward an even greater appreciation for Hemingway. Depth AND brevity? Good on ya, Ernest.(less)
Just what you'd expect from a Cussler novel. Which can be decent, quick reads. This one is just a tad more bland than others, relatively predictab...moreMeh.
Just what you'd expect from a Cussler novel. Which can be decent, quick reads. This one is just a tad more bland than others, relatively predictable, and Pitt doesn't really seem to do a whole lot in this installment. Not a whole lot of "high adventure" to speak of.(less)
When I dislike and am so disappointed by a book, I'm torn between wanting to explain why I had such an issue with i...moreWow. What an awful(ly boring) book.
When I dislike and am so disappointed by a book, I'm torn between wanting to explain why I had such an issue with it and not wanting such a time-sink to take up any more of my time. So, in brief:
// Expectations With a catchy title and hook (Charles Lindbergh elected president in 1940 and leading the U.S. on a path eerily similar to Germany several years earlier), you are left with a certain level of expectation. Like maybe some intrigue, some espionage, a few thrills. Nope. None of those.
// Intentions A big thing for me in judging a book is by comparing it to what it was meant to be. So what is THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA meant to be? It (apparently) is meant to be a fictional memoir of the author during his youth as the "what-if" unfolds. ... which again leaves me confused at the "a novel" proclamation on the cover along with the cover review claiming it to be a page turner. At best (for me, yes), it is a bloated, plodding, mind-numbing remembrance by a 9 year-old of 20% of what you'd like to read and 80% of some of the more pointless and boring anecdotes first-person writing has delivered in a long, long time.
// Is it really that bad? I'm troubled by Roth's execution on the book. He's regarded as a wonderful author, but -- this being my introduction to his work -- I can't help but feel that he couldn't decide how to write the book... even once he'd finished it. He attempts mightily to write from the mind of a young boy, but then rips the reader from this mode of storytelling to an awkward fire hose of third-person "news" informing the now-detached reader of what comes next. It's an annoying crutch for Roth to use. Disappointing too. If he couldn't convey the story in a gripping and comprehensive manner through his faux memoir, then tacking on such a hefty storytelling band-aid only makes things more cumbersome.
(And if I as the reader am to assume he wrote this as an adult looking back, then I'd hope that same adult would recognize the pages and pages of tiresome side-stories that do little more than bulk up the book's length and water down the plot to a point where boredom is all but assured.)
// Wow. This is harsh. Apologies. Sort of. Though I think any reader would be hard-pressed to say Roth is any less harsh. I'd heard in the past of Lindbergh's and Henry Ford's anti-semitic remarks to the public during this period. And I completely understand the venom their words would instill in people of Jewish descent who lived through such times. And *yes* such an extrapolation as Roth's "What if" leads to some intriguing and potentially terrifying possibilities. (And I think the desire for this intrigue and this terror coupled with the lack of execution was what left me so disappointed.)
The problem for me is that Roth gets so completely wrapped up in the venom itself that he poisons the novel with it. While I certainly rooted for Roth's family as the story unfolds, the plodding pace and the repeated blunt force of his condemnation of "President Lindbergh" (as well as most every non-Jewish American in the tale) left me screaming at the book "I GET IT! LINDBERGH WAS A HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD MAN!! GET ON WITH IT!!!"
// As Monty Python said... "Get on with it! In the end, that's what THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA left me with: a better understanding of the value of a good editor. Then again, if he'd stuck with the newsprint parts of the novel, it'd be a 30+ page short story... But (which was my hope once I altered my expectations to the book being a faux-memoir), what if Roth had stuck to his guns and kept the entirety of the book to a first-person narrative of a 9 year old himself? Wouldn't the ambiguity of what's going on at a national level have kept the reader in a place of worry and suspense? Wouldn't our perspective have been better aligned with his? Wouldn't that have forced Roth to tighten up the story and therefore toss aside so many of the detracting chunks of story that bloat it to the point of morbid obesity? ... And in doing so probably shorten up the book while making it that much better?
Ugg boots. Poor effort and poor results from Sedaris this go-around.
Having loved several of his books in the past (especially "Me Talk Pretty"), this...moreUgg boots. Poor effort and poor results from Sedaris this go-around.
Having loved several of his books in the past (especially "Me Talk Pretty"), this was one big -- though quick -- disappointment. I didn't mind that the stories were dark or rather sullen. Or that the stories differed from his usual, personal anecdotes. His writing style is still vintage Sedaris, so I can't complain about that either. My problem with the stories is that they were just... well... not very good.
The wearyingly boring tale of an aging woman who never does much of anything, telling the story of her youth where she passively never does much of an...moreThe wearyingly boring tale of an aging woman who never does much of anything, telling the story of her youth where she passively never does much of anything (life happens to her, never the other way around), all while reading a book her sister wrote, which tells the story of an affair (the affair's consummation is inferred) between a humdrum wealthy girl and a poor, crabby writer who vocally abuses her (which she never does anything about) between bouts of telling her science fiction stories worthy of "Astounding Science Fiction".
A wide chasm exists between the assumed kinfolk subtlety and passivity. Grade school writing classes hammer into our skulls the merits of avoiding the latter. Sadly, this novel bludgeons you with it. Clearly the intent is to tip-toe around that which is really going on... yet 500+ pages of tip-toeing is not subtlety. It's mind-numbingly boring. And the story-within-a-story-within-a-story-within-a-story structure is hardly redemptive.
Top-Level Story: Iris Chase is old. So old that nearly every reference in her life is in the past tense. Even her dawdling off to buy a donut in the morning is something that's already been done. And that's about all she does: buy donuts and read graffiti in public bathroom stalls. Oh, and to tell the...
1st-Level-Down Story: Iris Chase is young. Her dad is wealthy, so neither she nor her sister go to school. They sit at home. Nor does Young Iris ever need to make a decision for herself. So: she doesn't. This is hammered home by her past tense stories passively telling of events further in the past! Never does she simply go to the park. Rather, the reader is told "We had been to the park earlier that day." B-O-R-I-N-G. Or rather: "I had decided after I had completed the book that is was B-O-R-I-N-G."
Book-Within-the-Story: A wealthy lady has an affair with a poor jerk. The jerk verbally abuses her; she never does anything in response (save for sleeping with him). He's a hack of a sci-fi writer, so he tells her a story...
Tale-Within-the-Book-Within-the-Story: Perhaps the only redeeming part of the book. The story – through subtlety, inference and thematic parallels – actively gives "meat" to the rest of the novel. Which is assuredly why it shares the title with the actual novel itself. Sadly, the tale is short and not enough to redeem the concrete shoes that is the rest of this book.
5th-Wheel of the Story: Oh yeah. And to further bludgeon us with the passivity of matters, the novel is sprinkled with newspaper clippings, which (*sigh*) again tell us passively and in the past tense of events that had happened. No, we never experience these events. We're just told they occurred. And perhaps that's the overarching problem with the book: the reader is never given a chance to "experience" the story. Blah.
Clearly, Margaret Atwood is a gifted writer. Many descriptive passages throughout this novel are lovely, and several turns of phrase are worthy of an underline. But this was an awful choice of what book of hers to read first. Iris Chase's pitiful life – in the end – is her own damned fault, and to highlight a life of passivity, inaction, and boredom is (you guessed it) BORING. Horrifically so.
So, I guess if this was meant to be a horrifically boring story, then it was executed beautifully.(less)
Golly. What a poor book. And what a let down of a sequel.
The original "The Gold Coast" had the right mix of fun, intrigue, a glimpse into a world we'r...moreGolly. What a poor book. And what a let down of a sequel.
The original "The Gold Coast" had the right mix of fun, intrigue, a glimpse into a world we're not used to, an enticing setup ("The Great Gatsby" meets "The Godfather"), and an amusing/snarky narrator.
This? Well... DeMille was clearly grasping (desperately?) for whiffs of those successful elements this go around. The result was a bloated (seriously: 770 pages?!) mess that spends the first half (yes, almost 400 pages) rehashing -- and then rehashing the rehash -- the story and relationships and history of the first book. And not by weaving these elements delicately into the story as it unfolds. Nope, the reader is bludgeoned continually with the events of "The Gold Coast". And not as if these events were intended for readers who skipped book 1... because they would've "gotten it" in the first 50 to 100 pages. No. This felt as if the author couldn't manage a sustainable plot... and then spent the first half of the novel figuring out what was supposed to happen in the novel.
Which may sound repetitive, but, well...
Oh, and the plot is boring, hardly existent, and ends up really consisting of (minor spoilers -- kinda but not really) a letter... and not knowing where someone is. That's it.