Friday, May 29, 2009

Falling Short

I had been waiting for four years to read Wally Lamb's newest book "The Hour I First Believed." He came to UConn four years ago, during the spring semester of my freshman year, and my creative writing I class went down to the Stern Lounge in CLAS to hear him read from his work in progress ("The Hour I First Believed"). At that point, I was really into the idea of changing my major to English and becoming a writer and wanted to read everything I could. But, of course, that book wasn't available yet, so I read "She's Come Undone" instead. Loved it. So when his latest book finally came back to the library, waiting with my name on it, I was thrilled. Finally I have the book!

I'm about half way through it now. And, I have to say, I'm a little disappointed. I blame my disappointment partially on the editor. If I had been his editor, I would have have told him to clean it up and tighten it up. His approach doesn't really work for me.

Wally Lamb is a great story teller, but not all of his stories within his novel are necessary. The biggest problem I have with this novel, is that it feels like a series of creative writing exercises strung together. It almost feels like something I could have written, and I don't consider that high praise. It's very formulaic. One paragraph about the character's internal thoughts, the next about the external circumstances, internal thought, external circumstance. Break for the next section. Alternating paragraphs of an internal conversation.

But what really drives me up a wall is the introduction of characters. Page 321, chapter sixteen, the Seaberry family is introduced. Without any explanation. Just a brief telling of their story through a reporter writing the "A Victim's Victims" article. WHY? A creative writing exercise. Introduce a character, begin telling their story, leave them for a while. Later, explain how the main characters and these fringe characters are intertwined. Textbook. BUT ON PAGE 321? That's just a recipe for intense frustration on the part of the reader!

And all these breaks and jumps to other stories, other times, other characters gets really old, really fast.

And another thing: I get it. You're from Connecticut. You worked at the University of Connecticut. You really like Connecticut. Enough specifics already!! I-84, I-95, Route 32, Vernon, Rockville, and the fucking UConn Huskies. Enough already. I don't need a road map in order to follow in your characters imaginary footsteps. It's as bad as name-dropping celebrities. However, I do think "Governor  Roland T. Johnston" is clever.

I also feel that he goes too much for shock value. The exchanges with Velvet remind me of the lesbian episodes in "She's come Undone." Shock value. Make the reader feel uncomfortable. Get too real. Blech.

I desperately want to like this book. But my liking can only go so far. It's a good read, but, for me, there are too many flaws I have to overlook. It's a bummer. But I'm determined to get through the whole novel. All 740 pages of it.

No comments: