Tuesday, July 15, 2014

This Must Be the Place

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 This Must Be the Place (Henry Holt, 2010).

I was reading Kate Racculia's debut novel, This Must Be the Place, and a co-worker asked me what it was about, and I said "a boarding house." And that is a million miles from either helpful or accurate, but for years to come, I'm going to remember this novel, which I did not enjoy as much as I had hoped, as being "that one at the boarding house."

The reason that I didn't enjoy it is that so much of the plot is dependent on characters keeping secrets from each other. It's just one of my bugbears. The story is driven by the accidental death of Amy, a special effects technician in her early thirties. Her husband finds a pink shoe box full of mementos from her past and drives across the country to meet her high school best friend, but he doesn't tell her what he's doing in her boarding house for ages. And the best friend is keeping other secrets from her daughter, Oneida, and Oneida's new boyfriend is keeping secrets from her... basically the entire plot is constructed on secrets and lies.

That said, it's amazingly well-written. Oneida's story is just tremendous fun, with suitors throwing punches at each other as they deduce what the other has in mind, and her heart is stolen, against her initial judgement, by the fellow who acts like a tough-guy weirdo. I love her prose, and her dead-on-point depiction of overpowering teenage lust. I would have enjoyed a book about Oneida with very few reservations. Unfortunately, dead Amy haunts everything, and some tomfool notions of loving Amy being like loving a tornado or some other force of nature never rang true. Whenever Oneida and Eugene's story found room to breathe, I enjoyed the book, but other times, it was a burden. Very mild recommendation.

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