Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Published August 2017 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
Mark Firth is a contractor and home restorer in Howland, Massachusetts, who feels opportunity passing his family by. After being swindled by a financial advisor, what future can Mark promise his wife, Karen, and their young daughter, Haley? He finds himself envying the wealthy weekenders in his community whose houses sit empty all winter.
Philip Hadi used to be one of these people. But in the nervous days after 9/11 he flees New York and hires Mark to turn his Howland home into a year-round “secure location” from which he can manage billions of dollars of other people’s money. The collision of these two men’s very different worlds—rural vs. urban, middle class vs. wealthy—is the engine of Jonathan Dee’s powerful new novel.
Inspired by Hadi, Mark looks around for a surefire investment: the mid-decade housing boom. Over Karen’s objections, and teaming up with his troubled brother, Gerry, Mark starts buying up local property with cheap debt. Then the town’s first selectman dies suddenly, and Hadi volunteers for office. He soon begins subtly transforming Howland in his image—with unexpected results for Mark and his extended family.
Well, I suppose the DNF (did not finish) in the title pretty much gives away what my thoughts were about this book. You all know how rare it is for me to give up on a book.
I keep wondering if maybe what I downloaded isn't even the right book. It has the same cover. It even has a character named Mark Firth who is a contractor in Massachusetts. But the page for the book on Barnes and Noble's website says this is a 400 page book - the book I downloaded is just 284 pages. I could understand a difference of a few pages but more than 100? And the book I downloaded opens in Manhattan the day after the 9/11 attacks, not in Massachusetts, with an unnamed first-person narrator who is an extremely unlikable character. By the time I got to the actual first chapter, I was no longer interested.
George Saunders (Lincoln In The Bardo) calls the book "bold" and "vital." Mary Karr (Lit) called it "moving." The New York Times reviewer, on the other hand, didn't love it. And I can't tell whether Ron Charles (The Washington Post) liked it or not. So I'm not saying don't read it. Although I might be saying borrow it from your library if you're interested. There's a good chance you won't want to have paid good money for it.
Published May 2017 by Penguin RandomHouse
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review, through Netgalley
As the Vietnam War rages overseas, four friends make a vow. For the next two weeks, they will live for each other and for each day. Then, at the end of the two weeks, they will sacrifice themselves on the altar of their friendship.
Loyal Kay, our narrator, dreams of being an artist and escaping her stifling family—the stepmother and stepsister she gained after her mother’s early death, and the father she no longer feels she knows. As she struggles with her weight, her schoolwork, and her longing for her mother, she feels loyalty only to her three friends, determined to keep their group together at any cost. Brilliant, charismatic CJ appears to have everything—though even those closest to him can’t see him as he really is. Steady, quiet Saint wants to do right by everyone, trying not to let his emotions destroy himself and those around him. And beautiful Vera’s family secrets are too dark to share, even with her closest friends; caught in a web of family dysfunction, she can only hope the others won’t get tangled up in the danger she senses around her.
In the two-week span in which the novel takes place, during the summer before their senior year of high school, the lives of Kay, CJ, Saint, and Vera will change beyond their expectations, and what they gain and lose will determine the novel’s outcome.
Perhaps this one follows too closely on the heels of The Girls for me, another book set in the same time period also about teenagers struggling with family problems and secrets and looking for a family of friends. Perhaps I just had a hard time believing that friends would all have kept so much from each other (with the exception of CJ's secret which would have been something he would have wanted to hide even from his closest friends in the late 1960's).
Solwitz moves the story between the four characters, Kay's in first person and the others in third person. The changing narrative, particularly the changing point of view, just didn't work for me. I gave it 50 pages before I gave myself permission to stop. Sometimes you need to push through, and if other people who generally like the same books as I do told me it was well worth reading, I might have done that. But no one had. And so I gave up.
My not finishing this book probably has as much to do with it being the wrong book at the wrong time as it does with the book itself, in the end. It hit on too many triggers for me just now. That being said, I also don't see myself going back and picking it up any time. Unless one of those friends can convince me to do that. You never know.