Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Conflict, Schmonflict.

Erudite Mondays* at HalfSoledBoots
Volume 3, Number 4

by Will North

Enormous spoiler warning. I'm giving away some plot bits, here.
This is an interesting book because it's a total departure from my usual preference for the dark and complicated. I based my decision to read it on one little line from another review, which claimed the novel was about "...love that comes along too late - and thus is doomed by the prior commitments of an honorable life..." because I thought Hey! that sounds like it's right up my alley! Dark! Depressing! Doomed! Pointless! Futile!

I was disappointed to find, when I was reading it, that it was a Paramount Pictures kind of doomed love - not a Globe Theatre kind of doomed love. In fact, partway through the book I turned, frowning, to the back cover and saw this: "...has invited some early comparisons with the bestselling work of Nicholas Sparks..." I gave a start of horror and a shudder of revulsion - if I had read THAT line, I wouldn't have bothered with the book in the first place.

There's a kind of thing some writers do, where they justify their characters' actions or emotions by providing circumstances that make a character's decision easy. This book was supposed to be about the conflict a woman feels when she meets, after 20 years of marriage, the love of her life. It could have been compelling, gripping storytelling, with the reader exclaiming involuntarily "Dear Lord!! What on earth is she going to do now? What would I do in this situation?"

Instead, the author makes it too easy for the woman (Fiona), for her would-be lover, for the reader, and for himself. He provides Fiona with a husband who she maybe, possibly, never really loved, who maybe, possibly, never really loved her, and who has definitely never satisfied her in any way. To complete the caricature, the husband is afflicted with a medical condition that requires him to live apart from her, and has turned him surly and occasionally violent.

"Well, gosh, now here's this handsome fellow on my doorstep who cries and writes poetry and cooks like Jamie Oliver and wants nothing better than to bring me Sheer Bliss for the first time in decades.....what to do, what to do......"

The premise is sound. The question is an interesting one - is there a soul mate for you in the world? Have you met that person? What happens if you love someone else first? What happens if you only meet that soul mate after you've committed to someone else? How important is passion when compared with honour, fidelity, and duty? All good questions, with a lot of potentially arresting responses. I just feel that, like so many others, this premise could have been developed in a more interesting and complex fashion.

I wish that the husband had been a different man. The conflict would have been more poignant if he had been a good, gentle man who loved his wife and whom she loved. There are many kinds of love, even kinds of romantic love, and there was no need to strip their marriage of it in order to set the stage for El Conquistador.

Despite all this, by the end of the book, I had grown to like it better than I did at first. Some of the obvious, expected things never happen - "The Lovers Are Discovered", for example, is a chapter conspicuously absent. I'm thankful for this - when The Lovers Are Discovered there is always a certain inevitable, ugly chain of events, and you're left wondering which of the subsequent actions are motivated by the discovery itself. It undermines the characters' decisions.

My primary school principal was fond of assemblies. When something bad had happened - like a hole punched in the wall, some casual vandalism, or the theft of money from the office - he would get the entire school together in the gym and storm at us for ages. He ranted and raved, looked sternly over his glasses, pointed with an unwavering finger, and, I think, tried to infuse the unknown culprits with guilt and remorse. He was given, during his tirades, to quoting this passage of Scripture, from Numbers 32: "Be sure your sin will find you out."

For years I lived in dread and fear of my every little sin 'finding me out' - by which I thought (and I think he meant) that some Authority would discover the truth, denounce me publicly, and I would pay ghastly consequences. It was only as an adult, when in the grip of remorse and knowledge of my culpability for a wrong I really HAD done, that I realised the misinterpretation. The truth of this verse, and the tragedy of it, is that I will find myself out - the knowledge of my wrongdoing will seek me out in the hidden places where truth lies, call my name ("Oi! Shannon!") and poke me right in the eye.

Here in "The Long Walk Home" the lovers are discovered only by themselves - they find themselves out, and act based on those realisations. I like this development and it's certainly more realistic. I'm impressed that the author decides, in the end, to go with the better interpretation of that little verse from Numbers - to resolve the situation by working on the inside of his characters. It redeems, in however small a way, a novel that comes a little too close to the simplistic for my taste.

The Long Walk Home gets:

Reread? Yes
Given as a Gift to Others? No
Bookplate? No
(But I have to admit I love.....I mean really love.....the cover.)

*I know it's Wednesday....I choose to make my own reality.


Stace' said...

The cover IS a great one. If judged by the cover, this would be an amazing book!

Tabatha said...

You know, I live you very very much.

lizbon said...

I ALWAYS choose to make my own reality.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Good woman married to bad and evil man. Good man married to bad and evil woman. Great writing almost never comes out of this kind of simplistic plot line. Even with your faint praise with which you damned this book - I can't imagine reading it. Ewwwww. So glad you aren't going to lend. May I suggest a book that I'd love you to review. It's one of my favourite all time reads. Precious Bane ... the language is difficult but the rewards are worth it and the end ... I'll hold forth the gush as I don't want to get the keyboard wet.

kate said...

You know, I think this is one of my favourite Monday reviews. You allowed yourself to be honest about a book that you could have instead been completely reactive to. You didn't take the easy route (i.e. dismissive of the book), and I appreciate that.

And, as I am a huge Calvin and Hobbes fan, making one's own reality is sometimes the best way to go.

lizbon said...

Heh, more Paramount Pictures than The Globe. I finally got enough work done to actually READ this review. Whew. Yah, I'm with you, it would have been a lot more interesting with a less clear-cut choice.

I also think the whole soulmate question is interesting, and complicated, and perhaps a purely culturally induced phenomenon. If we'd never been exposed to all those movies and books about it, would we have some inner sense that there must be somebody Out There who's just made for us? I wonder indeed.