A Book You Hate...yet Draws You
Over the past few months, my husband and I have bought a number of books, most of which have been good and some of which sounded good...but weren't. One such book (I won't give the name) frustrated me on many levels, from the poor formatting (lines just randomly ended and then picked up again halfway across the next line) to poor editing (typos, poor punctuation) to severe problems with timeline and logic and just reasonable behavior from the characters to absolutely horrible anachronisms revealing complete lack of research of the setting and time of the novel.
An example: A man starts walking 'in the evening' to the home of the woman he loves, is told by her father to get lost, and walks a bit more and suddenly it's dawn--yet there's no sense that he's actually been walking all night. None.
Another example: The woman he loves is very agitated and upset that her brother is being crucified and then within a line or two she's off with this man listening to Jesus speak. She has apparently, in the space of five minutes, completely forgotten that her beloved brother is even now dying a horrible, torturous death.
I put this book down when the main character, living in 33 AD, collected his payment from the Romans and took it off to his local Wells Fargo branch. Okay, the book didn't say Wells Fargo. But it certainly suggested he just went down and deposited the cash in his banking account. Given the history of the time and the setting of the book...this didn't happen. Nothing like modern banks existed at the time, as the writing suggested.
I think this was around chapter four. I loved the premise of the book...but I simply couldn't bring myself to read further.
I got another book whose name I also won't mention, which was about a boy in a fantasy world who becomes a magician. My husband and I ended up referring to it as Timmy the Timorous Magician or Timothy the Inept. Time after time, Timothy (not his real name) although a trained magician, doesn't know that magic or this magic, which would have saved everyone. Time after time, Timothy is saved by someone else.
Andy yet...I was interested enough to keep reading to the end. I won't ever get the rest of the series, but I could at least see how it was a bit of a coming-of-age story, as 'Timothy' struggles to make use of his knowledge and capabilities.
Most recently, we bought a book from a 'local,' meaning Minnesota, author. I thought, from the blurb, that it was a memoir. On getting home and looking more carefully, I realized it was a novel. This one, too, frustrated me beyond belief--although it's another I kept reading to the end.
It started off with the story of an emotionally abused and cheated-on wife. It came across as one trope after another, as over-dramatic, maudlin, over-the-top. Yet as I read it, I thought about, after 30 or 40 years of the story of the abused wife being told, how one would write this story without it coming across as a trope. Tropes are tropes for a reason, after all. I thought about how I would write this story of a cheated-on, emotionally abused, gaslit wife.
Much of what she reports is true to life, and yet the wife came across as so weak, so confused, so completely unable to ever speak for herself.
The story got better in the middle section when the woman gets away from her abusive now-ex-husband (although only because he gets a new young thing pregnant and divorces her) and starts a new life. But it once again stalled and/or became maudlin as things got better for her. It seemed to go on too long after what should have been the resolution (recovering from a bad marriage) and yet at the same point, seemed to miss a grand opportunity.
The story begins more or less with the main character, a woman who never knew who her father was, discovering that her husband, a chronic cheater, has filed for divorce in order to marry the very young woman, with whom he cheated on her, who is now pregnant with his child.
Long story short, the Main Character finds that her father is the 'uncle' she's known and loved all her life. It turns out he was a married man who...drum roll...cheated on his wife...with her mother. MC was born as a result and had a very difficult childhood, never knowing who her father was and being teased and shunned because of this. (Given the stated year of her birth, I honesty had a hard time believing that even a small town would be this hateful to a child for this reason.)
That the Main Character (MC) was able to forgive her father, once she knew who he was, for leaving her in this difficult childhood, was believable. What I struggled with was that her father's wife was portrayed as the villain. This woman behaved terribly, aborting the child her husband desperately wanted and refusing to ever sleep with him again, which is the justification for why her husband, MC's father, cheated on her. And yet...he cheated on her, he continued to see MC's mother for six years until MC's mother's death, and then continued to love this deceased woman forever. And yet... we're supposed to believe that at the end of a 45+ year marriage, she can't understand why he doesn't love her.
In one way, I appreciate that the book presents that these are both flawed people. They were ill-matched to start with, pushed into marriage by parents who saw a political and financial match, and she was the self-centered villain who 'drove' him to cheat. Yet...we're suddenly expected to forget that and see she's really a broken woman in love after all and somehow not understanding why her husband doesn't love her.
Yet...despite him cheating on his wife and having a child out of wedlock and being eternally in love with another woman for the next 40 years of their marriage, a thing that would kill the soul of most women, we're supposed to see her as the villain and him as the beleaguered husband?
She spends more than 40 years working to destroy this child (the main character), who bears no fault in what happened. I find this hard to believe. Having a hard time coping with the existence of your husband's illegitimate child--I can see that. Being so venomously hateful and unchanged toward that daughter after 40 years? I find that a little harder to understand.
I can't imagine being that hateful toward someone who had nothing to do with the situation, while at the same time I actually know people who hold such grudges against people who actually did nothing. I also know a family in exactly the same situation. I know it has been hard for the wife to deal with her kids having a relationship with their half-sibling born from her husband's affair. I also know that she has not taken her understandable pain out on that child. That son was at his father's funeral.
And that leaves me in a place of questioning how true to life such a character (the wife of the man who cheated) really is. To me, she comes across as a caricature and that made it hard to keep reading.
As to the husband, at the end of his life, this long-suffering man whose wife has been so hateful for 45 years, is suddenly finding love for his wife and asks his daughter to get along with her.
The upshot? On an intellectual level, I feel I get what the story is trying to bring out in discussing situations that are not all black and white but are so many shades of gray. MC's father is not innocent. His wife is not innocent. Yet in the end, it comes across much more as that she is really the terrible person, despite the fact her husband cheated on her, had a child out of wedlock, and continued to actively see the other woman for six years until her death.
What married woman is not going to have some very strong and negative emotions about being treated like this? I would. You would. Yet we're supposed to believe that the woman who withdraws from a cheating spouse is the real culprit.
In the end, they both did cruel, unkind, despicable things. I think the author tried hard to make this point: that there are multiple sides to the story. And yet in the end, I very much felt that I was supposed to see the cheating husband as the victim and the cheated-on wife as the culprit who really 'made' him cheat. The author tried in the end to make me feel sorry for the cheated-on wife and have some human compassion for her--yet she'd spent the whole book building her up as the bad guy, such that it just didn't work.
I think what bothered me most about this book was the Lost Opportunity. Even the Suggested Opportunity. I was waiting for it the whole time and it was one of the reasons I continued to read through an opening that was All Trope All the Time and an ending that was maudlin and dragged out:
MC was cheated on and had to deal with the fact that her husband had a child with another woman; that her daughter had a brother who was the result of her father cheating on her husband; that her daughter was struggling with her father cheating and yet had fallen in love with her baby brother; how both she and her daughter would deal with the fact that this child exists, who is completely innocent yet a painful reminder of their husband/father cheating.
At the same time MC comes face to face with the fact that she herself is the product of a married man cheating on his wife. She was this new and innocent child born to her cheating spouse.
The world is not black and white. This book was screaming for MC to come to some face-to-face confrontation with her feelings over being cheated on, there being a new child as a result in contrast to her own discovery that she herself was the product of an extra-marital affair; some recognition of how difficult this was for her father's wife; and her husband's choice to be a father to this new child at the cost to herself of divorce vs her anger toward her father for not acknowledging her.
This, to me, should have been the absolution culmination of the story: How her own past is being repeated with her now cast in the role of cheated-on wife having to live with a man who pursues a life with the new woman and child.
But it never happened.
The story of her husband cheating on her and her daughter having this half-brother who she loves, while knowing he's the result of cheating on her mother and even finally tossing her mother aside after 20 years of marriage -- that story just sort of falls by the wayside.
There were some parts I liked in the middle. But the end just left me very disappointed.
See my newest release....
...there was a boy named Jacob who lived in a world of knights and dragons—when he wasn’t going to first grade, learning manners and waltzes, and eating steak tartare.
While his parents’ careers keep them occupied, he befriends the large and rambunctious family next door and explores his new home—the Summit Hill mansion of a 19th century railroad baron. Jacob is used to battling dragons. But even he is surprised to discover a man living in the walls in his basement! Anthony says he is a monk living in the medieval anchorite tradition, sealed in a cell for life to pray, hoping to become a saint.
Mama does not like his friendship with the kids next door. And she doesn’t believe there’s a saint in the cellar. But then, she doesn’t believe in dragons or King Methred, either.
What if she’s wrong….?
In addition to The Saint in the Cellar, please look for my other recent releases: