This is a book I’ve lazily been picking over the last couple weeks, one which even inspired me to begin asking what perspectives people like in a tale. I had about a third of the book left to read when I realized I had indeed gotten preoccupied by the relative non-issue and incorrectly identified what had me frustrated. Before I get into that, however, here’s my synopsis:
Cecelia Honeycutt, a twelve year old native of Willoughby, Ohio, is dealing with all the trials and tribulations of growing up a veritable pariah. Her ostracism and veritable solitude are not completely by choice, nor are they a result of societal faux pas’ she had committed. Unless you consider being the daughter of an eccentric and sadly fragmented former beauty queen any of the above. With a father who was relatively non-existent, a runaway from his marriage to insanity, CeeCee is left to keep herself and her mother safe while hiding herself away from the laughing and pity filled stares of her peers.
All of this changes when a great aunt she didn’t know she had comes to claim her for her own and bring her to Savannah, Georgia after the tragic death of the beauty queen. Still astray from her father CeeCee is plagued with the fear of inheriting her mother’s insanity while trying to rebuild a new life for herself amongst the gentle and eccentric people she meets.
[Interestingly enough that was all me and let me just say I think I can actually, maybe, kind of – sort of write good copy now.]
It all sounds wonderfully enchanting, but for me this fell flat. While I admit to not caring for the past tense/first person point of view my larger problem was the inconsistency of it.
Mrs. Odell liked the hat so much she took to wearing it every day. And once, when I walked by her room just before bed, I saw her sitting on the chair reading a magazine, wearing a nightgown with the hat on her head. Her feet were propped on a footstool, and stuck to the sole of one of her slippers was a price tag that read: Sale $.75
It was an image I would carry with me for the rest of my life.
Then there’s this:
Oletta held my hand as we stepped out the door and onto the back porch. Without her grounding force, I might have turned and run back inside the house.
The first paragraph of that is okay, it’s past tense but meant to feel as though it is occurring in that moment, but then we get to the “…for the rest of my life” which plainly speaks with a reminiscent tone just as “I might have turned back” did. The author employs such statements several times throughout the book which leads one to be jarred right out of the present happenings of CeeCee and, at least for me, into the realm of wondering where in time CeeCee is telling this story from. That we are never shown she is telling this story from another place in time and the very nonuniform usage of such phrases, like Bronte did with Jane Eyre or even Chris Cleave did in Little Bee, I came to the conclusion that this was merely something not caught by an editor or the author had simply not ascertained fully from what point she wanted to tell the story.
There were other issues I had with it, too much telling including stuff that DOESN’T MATTER:
After we returned home, Aunt Tootie changed clothes and left for her meeting while I browsed through the books in her library.
Later that morning, I took a shower and washed my hair.
Deciding it was best to stay out of hte way of all the hoopla in the backyard, I walked down the hallway and out the front door.
The biggest issue I have with authors who tell, not show, is the important and very emotional aspects of the story become buried under a narrative that takes you away from the feeling itself. “I was upset” doesn’t make me feel for the character but “shaking, tears uncontrollably pouring over my cheeks”, another other variations, brings you front and center to viewing the grief/terror of the protagonist. For a story that deals directly with a young girl’s grief of losing her mother, terror at being brought to a new place, and anger at her father for sending her away with a stranger it was a rather sterile read.
Ultimately I just can’t recommend this book for, in the end, I didn’t feel much of anything for our young protagonist. It wasn’t as though there wasn’t enough for her to live through or struggle with, it was just that the author never got me to FEEL the struggle. If anything this book served as an excellent lesson in what happens when telling instead of showing is employed in the literary arts as well as how vital suspense is to a work.