Jason Pettus's Reviews > The Great Lenore

The Great Lenore by J.M. Tohline
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Apr 30, 12

bookshelves: contemporary, character-heavy
Read from February 05 to April 30, 2012

(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

This slim debut novel by J.M. Tohline has an interesting conceit at its core; cleverly combining details from Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby but neither of their actual plots, it tells the story of a young novelist invited to housesit a mansion in Nantucket one winter, eventually becoming emotionally adopted by the upper-class family of misfits next door. The catch? It turns out that not only both brothers of that family but a close family friend have all had passionate love affairs at one point or another with the titular manic pixie dream girl, each of whom know only some of the truth about all of the others; so when said Lenore magically shows up at our everyman narrator's place four days after she apparently died in an accident, the family next door already starting to break down into Peyton-Place histrionics over their loss, needless to say that it throws a real wrench into the entire proceedings, especially after Lenore requests that our hero keep her existence a secret so that she can take advantage of the rare opportunity to see how all these various lovers of hers exactly react to her death. The problem, though, is that once Tohline puts this admittedly fascinating milieu together, he can't seem to figure out anything interesting to do with it; for while the entire thing is definitely well-written, and contains all kinds of knowing asides for the pleasure of heavy literary readers, the last two-thirds of this short book seem to consist of not much more than a bunch of people all endlessly screaming to each other, "I loved her more!" "No, I loved her more!" before building to a contrived climax that feels as if Tohline simply ran out of energy to continue. Fantastic as a short story idea but lacking as a novel, as belies the author's actual career experiences so far, this certainly is a sign of a writer who still has a lot of great work ahead of him, although with this particular book receiving only a tepid recommendation today.

Out of 10: 8.1
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