A few months ago, I bought a book I wouldn’t normally buy. But I had a gift card, I was looking for something light and breezy, and I was charmed by the front cover and the hook thereon. (We’ll come back to those.) I didn’t read the back cover copy very carefully—honestly, I don’t know what happened there; I’m usually very discerning with the cover copy, because I’ve written so much of it myself—or I never would have bought it. It wasn’t until days later that I realized it was … well, I don’t know. A weird mix of magical realism and historical fiction.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read some lovely magical realism. This post isn’t about that, per se, but I don’t want you to think I disliked the book because of the magical realism. So here’s a list of books I have read, just to prove my magical realism cred:
Baron in the Trees, The / Italo Calvino
Book Thief, The / Markus Zusak
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin / Louis de Bernières
Chocolat / Joanne Harris
Every Day / David Levithan
Everything Is Illuminated / Jonathan Safran Foer
Here on Earth / Alice Hoffman
Her Fearful Symmetry / Audrey Niffenegger
House of the Spirits, The / Isabel Allende
Jitterbug Perfume / Tom Robbins
Lace Reader, The Brunonia Barry
Life After Life / Kate Atkinson
Life of Pi / Yann Martel
Like Water for Chocolate / Laura Esquivel
Lovely Bones, The / Alice Sebold
Magus, The / John Fowles
Metamorphosis, The / Franz Kafka (novella)
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children / Ransom Riggs
Monsters of Templeton, The / Lauren Groff
Natural, The / Bernard Malamud
Night Circus, The / Erin Morgenstern
Ocean at the End of the Lane, The / Neil Gaiman
One Hundred Years of Solitude / Gabriel García Márquez
Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, The / Aimee Bender
Perfume / Patrick Süsskind
Practical Magic / Alice Hoffman
Shadow of the Wind, The / Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Slaughterhouse-Five / Kurt Vonnegut
Song of Solomon / Toni Morrison
Sputnik Sweetheart / Haruki Murakami
Time Traveler’s Wife, The / Audrey Niffenegger
Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, The / Haruki Murakami
Winter’s Tale / Mark Helprin
It is a not insubstantial list, and, in fact, contains many books I truly loved. My point about this book is it wasn’t the magical realism. It was everything else.
So … I had this book. I needed a palate-cleansing light read. And I spent an hour of my personal bedtime reading time and discovered it was really, really bad. Continuity problems in the first few pages, and some ridiculousness about tourism in Ireland that was unbelievable to someone who’s actually been there. It’s possible the author has been there. In which case, she was just making things up. I don’t mind a little bit of made-up stuff—we call it fiction, after all—but one should do it in a place that won’t be noticeable. When you start making up things about Ireland—a very popular tourist destination—you’re just asking for trouble.
After I turned out the light, I thought, That book’s just not for me and decided I would start something better the next night. Then I had another of my brain farts. No, I decided, I’ll read it and I’ll give it the editorial critique it should have had. I’ll mark it up, and then I’ll blog about it.
Hang on to your red pens, kids. It’s not pretty.
The book is Now & Then by Jacqueline Sheehan. And let’s start here: it’s on HarperCollins’s Avon imprint. Avon is a publisher of romance novels. That’s not my normal fare, and I know light romance isn’t intended to be great literature. (Still, I’ve liked contemporary romances by Jennifer Weiner, Adriana Trigiani, Sophie Kinsella, and you know I love Georgette Heyer because I’ve written about her more than once.) Interestingly, the romance is barely noticeable (and the little bit of sex was awkward). So I realize I am expecting more of this book than perhaps I should. Except (with its purple prose) … it has pretentions to be something more. Or delusions of grandeur. Or something.
And shouldn’t it be the best it can be?
As noted, it’s a weird mix of romance, history lesson, and magical realism, with an odd family drama of which much is made … but is never truly seen or explicated and doesn’t, in the end, have anything to do with the plot. Why was the father such a beast to his son, the narrator’s brother? It’s a big fat loose end.
We’ll talk more about these loose ends. Stay tuned.
Tweet: My point about this awful book is it wasn’t the magical realism. It was everything else.
Tweet: Brain fart: No, I’ll read it and I’ll give it the editorial critique it should have had.
Tweet: Hang on to your red pens, kids. What I think about this book … it’s not pretty.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”