Saturday, March 17, 2007

National Bestseller Reviews

Recently I read "The Time Traveler's Wife" with acclaim from the following:
A Today Show Book Club Selection
Chicago Tribune
NY Times Bestseller
LA Times Bestseller
Publishers Weekly Bestseller
Washington Post Bestseller
Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club

Some words of praise included:
"Exalted Love"
"Par excellence"
"Moved to Tears"
"Original Love Story"
"Happy Couple"
"They will break your heart"
"Exceedingly literate"

You get the picture.

So, wow, I thought, this book is going to be fabulous. From the first page, I started to wonder. The prologue was convoluted, but I knew my questions would eventually be answered. And they were. But I kept waiting and waiting for the reviewers praise to ring true. Henry was interesting, unique and quite enjoyable. His flaws were endearing, especially in his unpredictable circumstances. But the ball deflated with Clare. I wondered if a simple "show, don't tell" might be applied to her character to make us feel like she is real. As it was, she was a reporter--telling us what happened with little emotion. If she was upset, she told us that she cried, but there was no emotional build-up. No thought process that led to her sorrow or angst, or whatever the case.

The plot itself was great. The concept original to a point (unless you compare it to other time-traveler books). And the sub-characters were also well-defined. I just don't understand how Clare got lost in the mix. I also didn't understand why the author used such gratuitous language for most of the characters, when the story was strong without it. Some of the themes were also disturbing, but it was the graphic language of the book that finally stopped me cold. I was surprised that it had come so highly recommended, with no mention or warning.

With all my complaints about Clare, I was willing to forgive and continue reading . . . until she did something so out of character (with what character I thought was intended for her) . . . with no regret or penalty or "soul"--if you will. It seemed she gave up everything to "wait" for Henry. She was a real martyr right? Yet in the end she had no qualms about hurting those closest to her.

I'd love to hear other opinions. I don't officially review books and I'm not about to start. But this one lit a fire I couldn't put out. It made me seriously wonder how much we can depend on national reviews for giving us a decent picture of what to expect. Or is it the good ole boys system that's in place?


Tristi Pinkston said...

The problem with national reviews is that the idea seems to exist that the more literary a book is, the better it must be. If it's immoral, it's a must read. If it has language, it's a keeper. I don't believe reviews anymore -- I have to read something for myself and make up my own mind. For certain, my tastes are very different from what the national critics consider "art."

Heather B. Moore said...

I wouldn't consider this book literary at all... just paranormal and a bit abstract. Maybe I should treat reviews the same way I do the movie reviewers. If the critic doesn't like it, I'll probably love it, and vice versa. If books were rated, it would be an NC-17.

Julie Wright said...

Thanks for the review. I appreciate opinions that so often mirror my own when I am reading.

Josi said...

It's things like this that talk me out of reading national books until someone I really trust recommends it. I love Tristi's reviews and have liked every book she's recommended--but reviews like those you mentioned only make me suspcious. I think good ole boys is exactly right.

Heather B. Moore said...

Ironically enough, the reason I even picked it up was because a local church group was reading it. One of the ladies said it was great. I guess there's just some hard core writing out there that the odd person loves. I remember someone warned me about reading The Mermaid Chair. That was kids candy compared to TTTW.

Carole Thayne said...

Well I really liked the Mermaid Chair--she does go back to her husband and that was a plus for me, so yeah we each have to decide for ourselves. Funny I can handle a few very graphic scenes, much better than I can a book loaded with crude and foul langauge, you can skim a scene but if the book is peppered with it--it's too much.

Heather B. Moore said...

I did read the Mermaid Chair. I thought it was well-written. And it was easier to identify with the character because Sue Monk Kidd is talented in that way. I agree that when a book becomes too heavily graphic, it takes from the story.