Jamie's Reviews > Ten Days in the Hills

Ten Days in the Hills by Jane Smiley
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Jan 04, 2010

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Read in January, 2010

For whatever reason, as of late, I’ve found myself drawn to books that would be the paper equivalent to a new friend who is mostly awesome, but with some fundamental, irritating flaw—like a lisp, lazy eye or weird pension for having a repetitive word they use too much. For the most part the work is great, but there’s just something (they change depending on the book, obviously) that starts to grate on me on about page forty. Needless to say, by the end I’m frazzled and ready to return the book to the shelf or library.
Ten Days in the Hills is a primary example. The book was good—I often found myself impressed by Smiley’s ability to take a very contemporary group of people in a modern setting (L.A., which was fun) and evoke some really Wharton and James-ian feel. But, to take such an old-fashioned premise and give it a modern spin Smiley throws in some 21st century “ideas”—like recreational sex and drugs, neurosis, therapy, Freud and novel, “healthy” foods like humus—and pairs it with a ton of senseless BLATHER in order to create some movement and “filler.” So, despite the overall effect (a good book), it’s difficult to forget the unnecessary, silly details (what they ate, where they bought it and what L.A. streets they took to get there—even for an Angelino, the use of Sunset, Fountain and Laurel Canyon Blvd. became assault.)
This was also the closest thing to an “erotic” novel I’ve ever read. I read a few interviews with the author upon finishing the book and found she came to the same conclusion as I did—sex gets REALLY boring. That still doesn’t explain why she gave it SUCH a presence in her book, but I’m glad to know the whole world isn’t just WAY more interested and promiscuous than I am. This is a book where people keep vibrators in guest room drawers, where the “help” disappears quietly into the pantry to “suck each other’s tits” between courses, and most of the multitude of “guests” have played musical partners at least a few times which everyone in attendance.
But, in other ways, the “little things” that got so overwhelming were also interesting. When the party moves into a West L.A. mansion for three days, the attention to detail becomes profoundly fun—a little verbal tour of the Louvre, almost—and in terms of character development, the “little things” made the book the masterful work it was. Names changed as people evolved into what they were, culture was taken into account, as was history, affluence and geographical location.
The Jamaican Delphine and her movie start daughter, Zooey merge with the East-coast Jewish movie director, Max—Max’s now “typical” Midwestern transplant who writes etiquette novels and mentally stews about the war in Iraq, while Max’s mixed daughter Isabelle harbors some deep-rooted by insignificant mommy-issues and continues a long-term affair with her father’s agent. Toss in Cassie, who’s utterly old-Hollywood and functions as the “story-teller” and you’ve got a full house. In fact, the only really “under-developed” character seemed to be Paul—the transcendental yogi, who seemed to never quite get his chapter of “back story” to enlighten the reader into why he mattered or was there—(but he did remind me of a really deuchy guy I knew in college—so perhaps I was just hard on him.)
It was, as I’ve said, over all, a good piece of work—more than that, it was well-woven and interesting without being incredibly plot-driven—not an easy feat for ANYONE and very rarely done these days. Thoughts of “the great American novel” or at least aspirations of it seem obvious—but I was glad when it was over. Ten days of anyone is quite a lot, you know. After that entire story I needed to be alone. I also didn’t get the ending, but believe it or not, I don’t think it mattered much.

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