Monday, December 30, 2013

The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul (Atlantic, 2013).

Dear heaven, what a brick of a book. What a long, ponderous, dreary brick of a book.

This isn't the first very long critical darling of a novel that I've read this year that was desperately in need of some pruning shears before publication, but I'd rather read The Goldfinch another two times than deal with this again. Bob Shacochis apparently set out to map America's loss of identity through the last several decades with his rumbling story about a mysterious woman murdered in Haiti, but all that he did was leave me completely cold.

I had lots of problems with this book, but the central one is that Shaochis writes in a peculiar, incredibly detached manner. It genuinely feels and reads like he could not care less about his players, and the act of transcribing the story is a mammoth task. He even eschews quotation marks around what is sometimes dialogue and what is sometimes a report of what was conveyed, which has the unexpected effect of pushing readers further away from the story. Dialogue draws us in; this doesn't.

I probably would have been happier had I abandoned the book after its first section of about 200 pages. Two of the characters who have been investigating a murder, in what is all too often laborious detail, finally find the culprit, and then Shacochis just stops caring to detail it. Over the course of a few paragraphs, he just sums up what happened next, and how they felt about things months and years later. He might as well have just written "yadda yadda yadda." I felt so cheated. Then the story pops back six decades, as a Nazi collaborator in what will become Czechoslovakia is murdered, beheaded in front of his son. In time, long, long after any reader will ask "why in hell am I reading this," we'll learn that the young boy will one day become the father of the woman killed in Haiti.

Perhaps the book wants to talk big about geopolitics, and make Big Important Points, but sometimes the best way to talk about Big Issues is to actually talk about them, and not around them, and not as badly as is done here. Eventually, loose ends are tied, and surprises sprung, and connections made, but long past the point where I'd stopped caring. Firmly and flatly, this was the biggest waste of my reading time in 2013. Not at all recommended.

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