Friday, March 25, 2011

Secrets of Eden

In the past, I've considered Chris Bohjalian one of my favorite "go to" authors when I want something to read that will engross me and surprise me and offer me something a big different.  I loved Law of Similars and Midwives

So I started this book with eagerness and confidence that I was headed for a good reading ride.  And, I'm sorry to report, I was disappointed.  The plot itself held promise.  Alice and her husband have been found dead -- presumably she was strangled by her husband and in a presumed fit of drunken remorse, he then shot himself.  But as details about the scene of the bodies emerge, it appears that perhaps someone else shot the husband.  And so the mystery unfolds.

Partly it was the tone of the different narrators in the book.  None of the narrators -- Alice's minister and friend, the DA charged with overseeing the investigation of the deaths, an angel-seeing spiritualist ,and Alice's daughter -- are particularly likable.  In fact, the minister was cold and distant and almost smug at times, and Catherine, the DA was even worse, bitter and crudely portrayed.  I never really understood why the spiritualist was even in the story, except to muddy the waters a bit.  There's a point, to me, where the plot itself just won't carry me forward if I don't care about any of the characters.

I'm getting very tired of the tactic of having the narrator shift through the novel.  I get that it allows you to get inside the heads of different characters, and that it makes the point that one incident can look very different from different perspectives.  Bohjalian did it beautifully in Law of Similars and Midwives, and Jodi Picoult is another author who has used it well.  But in their early novels, it was a relatively new (or at least not commonly used) device.  Now it just feels tiresome.  Mr. Bohjalian, I think you're a very good writer.  But this shifting narrators thing feels formulaic and lazy now.  We get the point.  Try sticking to one character and see if you can tell a story that way.  (You too, Ms. Picoult.)

So here's my summary.  Promising plot, less interesting characters, and an annoyingly predictable ending.  It's like Bohjalian has made a template from some of his other novels and used it again to just fill in the blanks. 

Darn.  I expected and wanted something better.

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