Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Heroines

Imagine you're a pre-teen girl living in a drafty old house in the country. YOur mother, with the help of a housekeeper, runs a bed-and-breakfast for women. Your only friend is Albie, the pot-smoking neighbor kid who's not really your boyfriend, even though everyone thinks he is.
Now imagine that the women guests who appear --and disappear-- so suddenly at the house are not even real, but heroines from all the classic novels. Scarlett O'Hara (Gone with the Wind), Catherine (Wuthering Heights), Emma Bovary(Madame Bovary), Franny (Franny and Zooey), and Hester and her daughter Pearl (The Scarlett Letter) are among the protagonists who mysteriously arrive at the family's house when they have hit a crisis in the story. Sometimes they only stay long enough for a nap, and sometimes they stay for weeks, building up their strength before they are thrust back into their unfinished stories.

Unfortunately the creative storyline loses it in the details. The characters are not as memorable as they ought to be; I kept wanting to set down the book so that I could go reread Wuthering Heights, whose minor characters came back to me more vividly than even the protagonist I was reading about in here. The plotline lags in spots and often feels like a kite whose string has been let go--one isn't sure that you're going to land anywhere close to where you started, if you end up touching ground at all, and not getting caught in a tree or taken out to sea. The author's solution to this groundlessness of plot is to pin down each chapter with a description of the events contained within; this seems cheap, but it also takes out any drama or uncertainty on the part of the reader. Why finish the book at all if you can just flip through the pages and read all the chapter headings? I know I'm being incredibly harsh, but this was a real let-down, and it was a struggle to finish.

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