Colleen's Reviews > The Last Runaway

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
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I'd give this book a 3.5, were it possible, but a 4 would be a stretch. The reason for my markdown is not because of the story, nor even the characters or imagery, all of which I found perfectly compelling, but because I couldn't believe that the publisher let this book go to press in its current state. The accumulation of flaws, which were purely technical, gave the book the feel of a second draft with great potential.

1). Call me particular, but the number of be verbs per page--not to mention the opening paragraph--stagger my mind. How can it be? Chevalier is a seasoned author! By page fourteen, I began to count them: twenty or more was/weres per page, page after page. Good heavens! It's never a good thing to find yourself doing the mental flip from reader to editor, but I grew more and more distracted as I thought of better ways to compose each sentence.

2). The author's "research is showing," meaning she has done all her homework but has failed to fully integrate the historical information in a way that feels natural. On at least three separate occasions she expounds in great detail about the differences between American and English quilting, nearly word for word the exact argument. Someone should have noticed and struck out the repetition. Also, the characters often speechify about abolition, hatmaking, railroads, etc. in ways that feel far too author convenient. In other words, "I need the reader to know this stuff, so I'll just have the characters discuss it, even though they would have ordinarily known it." Lastly, Chevalier beats to death the various ways in which Americans differ culturally from their English counterparts. Only once does she suggest that American bluntness may be the byproduct of a pioneering lifestyle. The rest of the time most Americans are depicted as rude and overbearing, while the English temper is shown as far superior. The constant comparison grows tiresome.

3). Honor, who spends most of her time puzzling about her place within a new culture, makes incredible leaps of understanding about other characters' intents. [The cornfield scene comes to mind.] There simply aren't enough physical and verbal cues coming from other characters to guide her, let alone the reader, to draw certain key conclusions. Worse, the reader rarely knows what Honor is really thinking and feeling until the final third of the book. She's reticent and private, sure, but that reticence ought to be directed more outwardly than inwardly, where the reader has access to her thoughts.

4). I'm a fan of letters as a device to break up the monotony of the narrative, but in this case, Honor's letters home place the reader at an uncomfortable remove. She describes her feelings in these letters, but rarely to herself. This makes her seem inconsistent. Furthermore, she uses letters to narrate events that have happened offstage, events that might have been better off simply SHOWN. Then, in the next chapter, the author rewinds and shows the event in real time anyway, making the letter seem redundant and pointless.

5). The author frequently opens scenes with an omniscient "if only Honor had known that this would happen..." kind of statement, as opposed to simply placing us directly inside the action; then she rewinds and shows the action anyway. The reader feels jerked back and forth in time, which again pulls one out of the groove of the book.

6). Honor's husband remains a cipher from beginning to end. I would have preferred him to have shown a lot more backbone and uniqueness. The reader never really understands, for instance, what sparks Honor's interest in him, never mind his interest in her. Her lust for him seems too flat, too convenient for the plot.

Overall, most of Chevalier's characters and her plot(especially the last third) held my interest, but from beginning to end I had to resist reaching for a red pen. It might have been a really good book as opposed to only an average one if she had given it another revision....and that's such a shame.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
October 26, 2013 – Shelved
October 26, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Wow, I'm amazed you even gave it three! And the technical term for your #2 is "infodumping." :-)

Colleen It was still a good book, story wise. As for infodumping, it wasn't so much that the first dose of info felt like it had been dumped, it was more that the repetition of same information, worded the same way, suggested a lack of editorial attention. In short, I found the info interesting the first time around.

Gigi Thorsen The cornfield! Thank you! I stopped and reread it and thought: where on earth did THAT come from?

Colleen Exactly! If someone told me that the corn was ripe, I'd turn to him and say, "Why, yes. So it is. How observant of you." And then punch his lights out if he tried any moves!

Gigi Thorsen LOL!!! Agreed!

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