I was considering a moratorium on books that have those “Book Club Questions” printed in the back. But then I remembered that The Secret History by Donna Tartt, a masterpiece and one of my favorite books, had them, too. Perhaps the type of question ought to be the deciding factor. The Tartt questions were deep literary analysis, as opposed to the sort of questions you might find in the short-answer section of an eighth grade English test.
This book is the print equivalent of a Lifetime Movie of the Week. No, that might be an insult to the good people of the Lifetime Television Network. It’s bargain-basement Jodi Picoult (although there are those who might contend that Picoult herself is the bargain-basement version). It zipped through my visual cortex and skimmed across the surface of my consciousness leaving so little impact that in a week I will probably have forgotten that I read it (which I did in one evening).
Hailing from that perennial book-club favorite genre of Dysfunction Porn, this book is about fallen Golden Girl Allison, a 21 year old parolee just released from prison after having been convicted of A Terrible Crime. And yes, Gudenkauf spends the first seventy pages or so playing that “Let’s keep referring to the Terrible Crime and its consequences without actually saying what the Terrible Crime was, because that’s the only way I know how to hold your interest.” I thought, dear God, please let this not be drug out for the whole book, which it isn’t, but information about the crime in question is (predictably) distributed piecemeal, in dribs and drabs, as Allison deals with the Central Casting characters around her: her formerly pushy parents who’ve disowned her, her traumatized sister who won’t speak to her, her tough-as-nails lawyer, the kindly halfway house owner, the Earth Mother bookstore owner. A token effort to give these people some personality has been made but no one has any resonance as a real person.
Another issue I had with it is the level of mother-baby-child worship that was present, which to me seemed excessive. It almost bordered on fetishization. That could just be my perspective; I’m the least maternal woman ever so I don’t really get that, but this book was so fixated on babies and children and adults, even teenagers, and their obsessive devotion to them that it was a little icky to me.
The book is written from several points of view and every time she switches, Gudenkauf feels it necessary to start a new chapter (instead of just inserting a section break) resulting in a million tiny-ass chapters, some less than a full page, each one headed with the name of the person whose point of view we’re enjoying. Claire! Brynn! Allison! It’s point-of-view via Mouseketeer roll-call.
And golly gee, things build to a climax. Gee whillickers, a bit character zooms in to set things into motion. Oh my goodness, there’s are Echoes of Past Trauma being replayed before our eyes. This might as well be a paint-by-numbers. I cared about no one and nothing in this book.
I’m giving it two stars purely because I reserve the one-star rating for books I actively dislike, in other words, books that engender a negative emotional response. This one simply engendered no response at all.