I hesitated to check that mammoth prize-winning novel out of the library for a year despite professional reviews that said such things as, “The novel is … eloquent and assured, with memorable characters…,” despite the rave reviews several of my friends gave it, despite my curiosity. It’s just so long at nearly 800 pages, and I’m getting old enough to fear feeling obliged to finish a long, long book when life is too short and so many other books call to me. “Eeliizaabeeth!!! You want me. You need me. Come, open me up like I’m an innocent flower.”
During one of my frequent trips to our public library, I finally approached this book’s fat spine, timidly tipped it off the shelf, shrugged my shoulders and said, “It’s time, boo, it’s time to read this.”
And the first 250 pages or so were electric, magic, a reality built with a meticulous and beautiful attention to the kinds of details that sing a character to life (especially the dead one). Even the initial heartbreak and horror was composed with stunning beauty, and I was proud of myself for sticking with the lengthy descriptions and what could be considered excessive internal monologue. Maybe, I thought, I’m not too stupid for this book after all.
But another 100 pages in, and I felt trapped and claustrophobic, felt like someone was holding me hostage. Too much neglect, drug use, violence against “innocents,” the same scenes over and over, the drinking, the bad food, dirty clothes, the threats, the exploitation. I also started finding editing errors: a spot where “she” should have been “he,” where an exact line of dialogue appeared twice in a row as though a copyeditor had forgotten to delete a line after she moved it, a grammar error here and there, an inconsistency in the color of a bad guy’s sunglasses or eyes, something amiss with a plot point.
Because I’m trained as a copyeditor, and am attempting to make a bit of a living doing this wonderful work, I always find errors in the books I read. If the story is working for me, I read around or through the errors. In this case, I used the errors as an excuse to give myself permission to quit nearly halfway through the book. I just couldn’t do it.
I’m not going to name names because I’m not a book reviewer and don’t feel like giving even the vaguest negative press to an author who spent a decade writing this incredibly intricate and often beautiful tale. It just wasn’t for me, and I suppose this entry is a way for me to forgive myself for giving up, for being too shallow or too dumb to keep going.
I’ve already started reading another novel (lighter, shorter), and I’m reading Mary Oliver’s The Leaf and the Cloud, so I’m keeping my hungry reading brain sated.