Maybe It’s Just Me

I wanted to like it. Ever since I signed up for Goodreads and started entering their giveaways, I’ve dreamed of winning an advance copy of the next big thing. Like I would know the next big thing if it jumped up and bit me in the bum. Anyway, I wanted to win a good book. A book I liked. And I didn’t this time.

I feel an obligation to actually read and review the books I win because that’s why they give them away. And I want to be worthy of free books because, hey, free books. So I read it. And now I’m reviewing it, and I can only hope there’s some kind of literary karma that will pat me on the head when I’m done and allow that first edition Philosopher’s Stone to find its way to my collection.

The book is Night Swim by Jessica Keener.  A teenage girl named Sarah somehow remains 16 (even though every other character grows up and moves on with their lives during the course of the book) and lives in a dysfunctional family in what my best guess tells me is the late 60’s. Oh, and her mom died.

The author attempts to be so flowery that she fails to develop both plot and characters. More attention is given to what the characters are wearing than to who they are. I didn’t find myself caring about any of them. At all. And events that could be catalysts (an uncle who asks Sarah to pose naked for him, her young brother grabbing hold of an electric fence at a zoo, even an abortion) fall flat because they are dealt with in a paragraph or two and then are never mentioned again. Most of the events left me wondering why they were included in the first place.

The difference between a truly good writer and the rest of the bunch is the ability to “show, not tell.” I grew increasingly frustrated as the author felt forced to explain everything that she had just shown me because even she seemed to realize she didn’t do so very clearly.

There are some unique phrases and expressions of thought, but they are awkwardly placed and the author just tries too hard. Metaphors are a dime a dozen, and very few of them are actually good. A ruthless editor might be able to weed out the phrases that are worth keeping and discard the rest.

Keener does not seem to have a grasp of her time period. The abortion was performed in a hospital a good five years before Roe v. Wade made it through the Supreme Court. A song she referred to as being from a “grandma radio station” would have been popular in Sarah’s childhood. A classmate was driving a make of car that wouldn’t be popular for a few more years. Sarah bought her own plane ticket and took a commuter flight a couple of decades before such things were available. There was just nothing solid here to hang onto.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I am just too dense to fully appreciate this book. My 14 year old offered to read it to see if she “gets” it, obviously doubting my abilities. I hope someone finds merit in the book. Every author should have their work appreciated by someone.

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43 thoughts on “Maybe It’s Just Me

  1. Why are those moments so infuriating? When an author/filmmaker whatever gets the times deeply wrong? I mean, of course it derails the narrative and speaks of dazzling laziness on the part of the author… but why does it inspire such anger in me?

  2. I have become increasingly impatient with authors who ‘talk too much’ and say too little. One of my favorite relaxing genres are detective/mystery stories and I now refuse to read any mystery that is going to give me a recipe for muffins, teach me how to knit, identify flowers, talk about the antics of cute animals, etc. I also dislike the big fashion commentaries, Cinderella stories and lame romances foisted into plots unnecessarily. I didn’t mean to write so much. You touched a nerve. Marie 😉

  3. I hate when an author has an interesting premise and just blows the whole thing with the types of errors in detail mentioned and sloppy prose. I read (and listen, I am an audio-book-a-holic) to some books and think “how did someone think this was publish-worthy?”

  4. 1. I get incredibly annoyed when authors do no research whatsoever. What, they don’t even have friends they can ask to google something for them?
    2. I hate that EVERY SINGLE OTHER REVIEW for this book talks about how “beautifully written” it is. I don’t care if you write the most well-crafted sentence the world has ever seen – if there’s no story to back it up, I’m going to feel the need to trash the book.
    3. There’s actually another review that calls out the people that gave this book one star. Uncalled for.
    4. The author comments on each and every (good) review on goodreads. That makes me feel uncomfortable, like I’m not able to say what I want to say without fear of reprisals.
    5. I’m sorry you didn’t like it. I know how badly you wanted to win something good.

    ps. miss you!

    • Also, I just noticed that the author is sending friend requests left and right from a personal account, not her gr author account. This infuriates me, it makes me feel like she’s misrepresenting herself. Gahhh!

    • I was a little weirded out by being sent a FR by the author. I didn’t do a full review over there on Goodreads because I am not sure which authors are mature enough to handle a bad review.

      • As sad as it makes me to say this – first/new author behaviour toward reviews and reviewers now plays a big part in what I will read now. If I see someone being a giant jerkface because they got a bad (or even mediocre) review, I won’t read anything they write, ever.

  5. I think you should point out of those mistakes as a review, you could throw in a compliment if you can find one, or an encouraging word like “don’t give up on the craft of writing” but she needs a reality check. Otherwise ten years down the road she will be bitter over the fact that she never made that Best Seller list, thinking the world is filled with idiots, instead of realizing her craft wasn’t perfected yet. If she really cares about writing, she will appreciate the constructive criticism more than the fluff!

  6. That’s such a bummer! Not having a well thought out or researched story is so frustrating and relatively easy to fix with a little time investment. And well-developed characters really make or break a book. I’d be irritated. Don’t like feeling that my time was wasted. Hoping for some really good books to be headed your way!

  7. eeeek! Lots of food for thought here. I’m going to tuck me tail against me bum and re-read everything I have ever written. (speaking of tuck – the never aging thing > done in Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt really, really well.) Sorry, librarian in me can’t help it.

  8. I hate when an author gets the details wrong. It distracts me – hey, but maybe that was the point.
    But who is her agent…? Maybe there’s hope for me if I can find someone who can even get bad writing published….

  9. I review books for http://www.LibraryThing.com (in their Early Reviewers group-it’s FREE!) and have had good, bad, and mediocre books to review. Since I always try not to read any other reviews before I write mine, I am sometimes surprised afterwards that everyone hated something I loved – and vice versa. The best you can do is be as honest as you can. If the author isn’t able to appreciate both positive and negative feedback, maybe they should reassess whether they WANT their book reviewed.

  10. Hi,
    That is great how you kept reading the book, if I start to read a book and it doesn’t really hold up to what I expect, I just can’t finish reading it, it becomes too boring to continue, so good on you for actually getting all the way through. A good honest review.

    • I will warn you though, it’s not weird in a compelling way. I’ve read books where I thought to myself “That was strange. What just happened?” In this book that happens often, but it’s mostly because she left a sentence or two out. It’s like every seventh sentence was removed entirely. I can get on board with weird. I’d describe this book as ham-handed.

  11. My daughter keeps winning books on Goodreads and I’ve yet to win one. I did win three on a blog contest. They were all signed, just in case they become famous someday 🙂

  12. I wonder if she would. I got a movie from the library yesterday and told her “You can watch it if you want, but you probably won’t like it.” Which is, of course, the best way to ensure a teen will watch something. And I was right. She HATED it.

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