Where's the book?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

#26, 27, 28: a trio of new releases by women

Somehow this summer I've gotten into reading the recently released. It could be because I found a new bookstore I like and I can't seem to stop going there and buying more books. Or it could be because I keep reading about new books that sound so interesting. Unfortunately, in all three of these new releases, I've been pretty disappointed.

#26 is Siracusa by Delia Ephron. I heard her interviewed on the radio and she made the book sound so fascinating I couldn't resist, especially since I'm heading off to Sicily next month. Sadly, she talks a better game than she writes. It's the story of two couples who go on vacation together, accompanied by one couple's strange ten-year-old daughter. The tale is told in alternating voices by each of the adults, which is actually the most interesting thing about the book. Ephron manages to create four very distinct (if not always credible) voices, so that even if you pick the book up without knowing which chapter you were in, you would quickly recognize which character was speaking. That--and a few tips on places to visit in Sicily and Rome--is the best part of the book. The story is moderately interesting, and there's a big shocker that occurs toward the end that is blatantly telegraphed early on, in a Chekhov's gun moment that just leaves you waiting to see who's going to be getting the bullet to the head (I'm speaking metaphorically here, there's no gun in the book). Kind of a disappointment, but at least it made me more excited about my upcoming trip.

#27, however, was a massive bummer. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler has gotten all kinds of hype this summer, and since it's set in New York City and about the restaurant industry and a young woman's coming of age (all topics that push my reading buttons), I was very excited to open the covers. Sad to say, it's an overwritten, undercooked, melodramatic, disjointed piece of junk. The cliches abound, the endless drink and drugs are as dulling to the reader as they are to the narrator, the character development borders on nil (greasy-haired bad boy, wise but cruel older woman...), and, worst of all, it's boring. So is all the hype because the author is young and pretty and her book is supposedly based on real-life places and people? Probably. It certainly can't be because of her writing talent.

#28 is another big recent release, another first novel, by another pretty young woman. And it too has gotten plenty of positive press. And it too disappoints, although not as much as Sweetbitter. Emma Cline's The Girls is loosely based on the Charles Manson family, and is another young woman's coming-of-age story. In this case the narrator is the lonely and lost fourteen-year-old Evie, who becomes a hanger-on at the ranch populated by Russell, the Manson-like leader, and his followers. But Cline is a far better writer, and her depiction of what it's like to be a sad young teenager trying desperately to figure out how to be in the world is spot on. She captures perfectly the confusion and insecurity, and the dangerous attraction to a confident and charming older girl. The book shifts back and forth in time, to a present-day middle-aged Evie, and those shifts fall flat. But much of the book is fascinating, even if ultimately far less interesting than all the buzz would have you think. The main difference is: Cline can write.