Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Deconstructing Fusion Literature

Book club time again, kids!  We read Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberly McCreight.  My nutshell opinion: eh, probably don't bother.

If I say that the book is Gossip Girl meets Gone Girl, that will make it sound much better than it is.  I think it's more like it's trying to be that kind of one-two punch. High-powered lawyer and loving single mother Kate is called to come pick up her daughter at school, and when she arrives, Amelia has fallen from the school roof to her death.  Why would this down-to-earth, bookish girl do such a thing?  Kate can't imagine, and as she emerges from her grief, she decides to find out.

Two stories unfold--Kate's investigation into Amelia's death, and Amelia's account of the last few months of her life.  There are text conversations, Facebook updates, and posts from an anonymous gossip blog at Amelia's elite private school.  There are secret clubs, sexual awakenings, and Bar Association scandals.  The two stories--high school drama (crushes, clubs, love, friendship) and investigation of a tragedy (motives, anonymous texts, bribery, lies)--play out on pretty different levels. 

To be honest, the high school story worked better for me, which was surprising.  Each step Amelia takes makes sense to me.  When she chooses not to tell her mom or her teacher something, it seems like, if not a good decision, at least an understandable one.  They're teenagers, they're smart, but they want teenaged things and react in dumb, teenaged ways.  It was very human, and very believable.

The investigation, though?  Was daytime TV-worthy.  X was sleeping with Y, who was secretly the father of Z!  Did the principal know?  Did the cop get paid off?  Those texts were sent from where? By whom?  Wow, seriously?  Who was Amelia's father?  Woah, did we see that coming?  Yes, actually, we kind of did--so how come the characters didn't?  And since when does Lennie Briscoe let the grieving mom accompany him to interrogate witnesses? 

Another peeve--Kate.  Willfully blind, painted as a loving-if-overextended mom, she's not there for her kid.  When your kid is trying to talk to you and your phone rings, you don't say "I'll talk to you if it's important, but if not I'll take this call."  You weren't talking about what to watch on TV--she was trying to tell you something.  I could see that, even before we got the same scene from the daughter's point of view.  Kids don't beg for help--they need you to be standing there extending a hand before they reluctantly take it.  Even I know that.

So all her self-blame that I feel like the book wanted me to brush away--no, of course it's not your fault, there was nothing you could have done--kind of seemed reasonable to me.  Yeah, you weren't the great mom you thought you were.  Absent with good intentions is still absent.  And I'm not sure how much redemption you get for your pursuit of the truth after she's dead.  It's great and probably all you've got, but it would have been better to be there before.  Jeez, I'm mad at Kate--I generally don't like guilt-inducing pile-ons, but I feel like the book wanted me to dismiss her as a player in Amelia's tragedy, which she was not.

Ultimately, the tangled web was pretty messy, and the twists were so twisty as to be a little silly.  Did it keep me reading?  Sure.  Did I want desperately to know what had happened?  Absolutely.  Do I think you should pick it up because you're missing something cool?  No, not really.  Read Gillian Flynn for twists and Eleanor & Park for intense high school experiences; give this one a pass.


Lianna Williamson said...

I know exactly what you mean about the character who's blaming herself for some tragedy, and you feel the author there crying out, "LOOK! Look how much she's suffering when truly she is blameless!" And you're like, "Blameless, my ass."

"Absent with good intentions is still absent." There's an essay in that.

Lianna Williamson said...

Oh, also:

"Kids don't beg for help--they need you to be standing there extending a hand before they reluctantly take it."

I'm writing that on a card and putting it where I can see it every day.

Kris said...

I have to say, Kate really really bothered me as a person. She's supposed to be this really successful lawyer, and yet every tiny revelation made to her about ANYTHING, she goes ballistic and assumes worst case scenario. It was like she lacked any faculty for critical thinking even a tiny bit. You don't assume the headmaster was abusing your child if you find he wrote her e-mails!
Also, I figured out the ending to the book 28% of the way through (thanks Kindle, for keeping track!!) and then got annoyed that I did know. And I don't buy that the cool English teacher was writing that blog. That was silly to me.