I hate reviewing memoirs. I always feel like such a bitch when I'm critical of them because it seems like I'm criticizing a real person instead of a cI hate reviewing memoirs. I always feel like such a bitch when I'm critical of them because it seems like I'm criticizing a real person instead of a character and, in this case, because it is about a soldier and his family, it may even seem like I'm not being sufficiently supportive of the troops.
Oh well. I did not like this book. At all.
I read this book because it has been chosen as next year's OneBook selection for my university. That means that all incoming freshmen will read this book and all Freshman English classes will have to feature it. I teach Freshman English, so I wanted to see what we were getting into.
Ultimately, not only did I intensely dislike this book, but I don't think it's a particularly appropriate choice for this kind of program.
The premise is something that deserves attention--the losses attendant upon war, memory, grief--and it truly is tragic that Dana Canedy's fiancé Charles was killed in Iraq and that her son will not know his father. However, just because a situation is tragic does not mean it deserves a book. At no point was I drawn into these people's lives in a meaningful way. Each chapter (except the epilogue) is framed as a letter from Dana Canedy to her son Jordan, telling him about his father, his parents' lives and relationship, and his father's death. This is the kind of thing that a child would cherish. But I don't know these people and their lives, though valuable in their own right, do not interest me. It is Canedy's responsibility in writing a memoir to make her life interesting and relevant to the reader, and with that she failed.
Furthermore, I was extremely put off by the glorification of the military (even though for a time Canedy is angry after Charles's death, the majority of the book consists of her being bravely supportive no matter how she really feels or what she really thinks about the war); the constant references to God, prayer, religion, and angels (really, it's okay with me if people believe in God, but I have to teach this book?); and the excuses Canedy makes for Charles' behaviors, which include skipping the birth of their child, not calling her when he was choosing to attend another man's child's birth instead of meeting her for a date, and his sometimes overbearing need to be chivalrous of "his woman."
This is not a book that inspires critical thought. It is presented as a love story, but their relationship has serious problems (including major incompatibilities and an almost complete lack of communication at times) that are glossed over or romanticized. It raises important issues like the dangers and costs of military service, domestic abuse, gender roles, and marriage, among other things, but more often than not, these issues are also glossed over in favor of spending more time describing how good-looking Charles was or what a good baby Jordan is.
This is a book that wants to be deeper or more meaningful than it is. Canedy describes and emotes a lot, but she doesn't really do more than that and for a memoir to be truly powerful, to be more than a gimmick, it must go beyond background information, facts, and personal feelings.
If you're interested in a memoir about war, look for Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. O'Brien takes his memories of Vietnam, the very personal memories, and makes of them something much greater than his own experience, something that speaks not only to veterans but to everyone who has lost someone or done something that they may regret. ...more
Originally I only gave this book four stars. I think I was disappointed that it wasn't more like Perdido Street Station, which I adored. But I am offiOriginally I only gave this book four stars. I think I was disappointed that it wasn't more like Perdido Street Station, which I adored. But I am officially raising the score to five stars because, months after reading it, it is still with me. It isn't like Perdido Street Station, but it's not meant to be; it is wonderful in an entirely different way.
And that's just how awesome China Miéville is. ...more