Friday, November 27, 2009

Common Theme

I've been trying to articulate what's going on that kind of annoys me with the two Jennifer McMahon novels that I've read. My attempts to put it into words have never quite hit the issue quite on the nose. Whenever I describe the problem, someone comes up with a book that fits that exact description but isn't so damned troubling. So let's try this again.

Her first book, Promise Not To Tell, confused me a little when I was reading it. It was a strange mishmash of older-woman-reflecting-on-her-troubled-childhood, returning-home-to-take-care-of-Alzheimer's-suffering-mom, murder, ghost story, and probably some other stuff that I'm forgetting. I remember saying to Mike that if I could figure out if this was the kind of book where a) the ghost might be real, b) the hallucinations of the demented woman might be real, and/or c) the murderer is going to be one of the innocent-seeming-yet-recurring-for-no-particular-reason townfolk, then I would enjoy the book better.

In the end, it turned out the book was all three. The end was satisfying, kind of, and it made me suspect that if I had known it was going to be that kind of book, I would have enjoyed it more. So when I saw Island of Lost Girls on the shelf, by George, I thought, I can test my theory!

My theory, sadly, appears to have been wrong. I didn't hate Island of Lost Girls, but I was just as adrift about what was going on. It's the bones of a mystery novel with the flesh of an introspecting, coming-to-grips-with-troubled-childhood thing, but the graft is poor and neither one really works.

The thing is, I think there are a lot of great mysteries that are all about the main character, where the mystery itself is practically a MacGuffin, just an excuse to tell the story. I feel like I'm maligning those books when I complain about this one. But it's a real flaw here. The ending of the book made me feel like the author thought she was writing something entirely different than what I was reading--I was reading a book about a directionless young woman who witnesses a kidnapping and starts poking around like an amateur detective in order to try to feel like she's making something of a life she doesn't know what to do with. The author seemed to think she was writing a mystery, in which the question of who did it is a strong support for coming to know the characters and circumstances.

Ugh--I still feel like I'm not explaining this well. It wasn't a bad book, but it wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. If I think about the mystery plot alone, it was actually a pretty good story. But the vitality of a mystery was missing, somehow.

Also, I have no idea why there's a frog on the cover. Whole book is rife with rabbits.

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