Tuesday, April 18, 2017

book journal: Little Deaths by Emma Flint

The backstory: Little Deaths, Emma Flint's first novel, is on the 2017 Baileys Prize longlist.

The basics:  "It's 1965 in a tight-knit working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York, and Ruth Malone--a single mother who works long hours as a cocktail waitress--wakes to discover her two small children, Frankie Jr. and Cindy, have gone missing. Later that day, Cindy's body is found in a derelict lot a half mile from her home, strangled. Ten days later, Frankie Jr.'s decomposing body is found. Immediately, all fingers point to Ruth."

My thoughts: When the Baileys Prize longlist was announced, the title I was most excited to see was Little Deaths. It got a lot of pre-publication buzz, and it was billed as feminist literary crime fiction based on a true story. I love all of those things. It was the first longlist title I picked up, and as eager as I was to read it, I found the pace very slow. The title alerts us that Frankie and Cindy die, yet they don't die on the page for some time. Immediately, speculation is on Ruth. Ruth is a complicated woman who is judged unfairly, but in ways that are familiar.

Part of my issue with this novel is wrapped up in what it is and what it is not. Fair or not, Little Deaths is billed as a crime novel, and while it is, undoubtedly about a crime, I would not classify it as a crime novel. The focus isn't on solving the crime. Instead the focus is split on exploring Ruth's life after the death of her children and on a reporter Pete Wonicke, who takes an unhealthy interest in the case and Ruth. I found his character odd and his actions increasingly bizarre (and not in an interesting way.)

Overall, the book didn't have enough narrative momentum for me. I wasn't sure where I was supposed to focus. The killer (to me) clearly wasn't Ruth, but Flint doesn't spend enough time exploring suspects. To be fair, the fact the police don't do this work because they're focused on Ruth is pivotal to this story, but it's also very dull. Part of me hoped for an ambiguous resolution, but instead Flint chose an incredibly disappointing approach that made me not much care for this novel that didn't accomplish nearly enough with its execution.

Favorite passage:  "He stopped at the next corner and wrote down the details and found his fingers itching to describe Salcito’s heavy walk, his lost expression. But he told himself he would not do that because it was unnecessary. It was unprofessional. When, in fact, he did not want to make this man human. He was not a character in a story to be identified with: he was a possible witness, a possible accessory, a possible killer."

The verdict: I found the pace of Little Deaths too slow and the mystery to be so glaringly obvious I was embarrassed it's billed as crime fiction. Flint explores a fascinating story, but I think it would be better executed on film.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: January 17, 2017
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Little Deaths from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

book journal: Marlena by Julie Buntin

The backstory:  Marlena is Julie Buntin's first novel.

The basics:  "The story of two girls and the wild year that will cost one her life, and define the other’s for decades."

My thoughts: Marlena consumed me as I read it. It opens in the present day, where we meet Cat. This glimpse into the present felt brief, but I soon realized the real action of this novel is in the past. Initially, I found myself hungering to return to the present, which is at least partly do to my fascination with knowing how things end because figuring out how characters move from the past to the present (or future) fascinates me. But as this novel went on, I found myself much less invested in present Cat, which surprised me.

Buntin is a gifted writer, and she made me love reading about teenage angst in a way I haven't enjoyed in years. She made me prefer a teen storyline to an adult storyline. At times, she even made me remember my teen years with fondness, "Everyone has a secret life. But when you're a girl with a best friend, you think your secret life is something you can share."

Favorite passage: "The truth is both a vast wilderness and the tiniest space you can imagine. It's between me and her, what I saw and what she saw and how I see it now and how she no now."

The verdict: Buntin is at her best writing about the past, and that rightly constitutes most of this novel. While I enjoyed seeing where Cat was, it didn't feel as authentic. I wish Buntin would have delved more into the present or left it out, as it muddied an otherwise extraordinary narrative. As much as I liked Marlena, this novel made me fall in love with Julie Buntin as a writer, and I can't wait to see where she goes next.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: April 4, 2017
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Marlena from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Read this beautiful essay, "On Making Things Up: Some True Stories About Writing My Novel." Visit Julie Buntin's website and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!