Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Fates Will Find Their Way, by Hannah Pittard

Over at his Bibliophobia blog, Alan KW Wong keeps a sharp eye on the publishing industry, and last week he spotted a very astute essay by Ron Charles in the Washington Post:
Do snippets of inflated praise on dust jackets make any difference to potential readers standing in a bookstore? Is anyone buying Benjamin Percy’s werewolf novel, Red Moon, because John Irving called it 'terrifying'? "Book blurbs are terrifying," Ron Charles suggests.  
I am appropriating the title of Charles' essay, 'Two thumbs up! (I hated it)' for this blog entry, because this
novel let me down with a crash, and I blame the blurbs.

It's a good question -- how do we choose the books we buy and read? Book reviews? Trusted friends' recommendations? What's available on the discount table? Amazon's "people who bought this also bought..." suggestions?  Serendipity?

Because I buy very few print books here in Malaysia, I rarely browse the shelves, so jacket blurbs have few opportunities to sink their nasty little claws into me. I think I read one glowing review of The Fates Will Find Their Way, maybe in the Guardian, or maybe in one of Flavorwire's lists of worthwhile books.  I bought it from an on-line bookseller who reaffirmed the glowing review by posting a stack of... yes, jacket blurbs. In fact, we can't even call them jacket blurbs: In addition to the ones on the front and back covers, there are seven full pages (yes, seven pages!) of blurbs. When I began this book, my expectations were in the stratosphere.

They'd sunk to a vague, hopeful hovering by the halfway point, and then I just dragged myself along to the conclusion out of courtesy.  Courtesy? Yes. This is Hannah Pittard's first novel, and it's not a bad book. It simply failed (by a wide margin) to live up to the hype.

I've gone back to look at the blurbs more closely.  They range from a line in the New York Times penned by a reviewer whose first novel was not yet released ("What emerges from the narration instead of facts are exquisite details that translate instantly into memory...") to a barely coherent pronouncement from ("The architecture of the narrative is cemented in the solipsism of the boys/men... As readers work their way through the novel, they might try guessing what could have happened to Nora, but the ending is a surprise.")  In other words, if I'd taken the time to analyse the blurbs objectively as Ron Charles recommends in his essay, I might have been scared away from this book.  Or better still, would have disregarded them entirely and approached the book with far more reasonable expectations.

At the beginning of the novel, 16 year-old Nora Lindell disappears.  The narrator is an unidentified boy in her nameless town. As the years pass, rumours circulate -- someone claims to have seen an older Nora at an airport in Arizona, someone else says she appeared in a newscast in Mumbai -- what does happen as the boys and girls in the town mature mixes with the conjecture about what may have happened to Nora.

The voice and the narration of The Fates Will Find Their Way reminded me constantly of The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides, a book that I found magnificent.  It's an unfortunate comparison, though; this novel is a far cry from that one. The blurb on the front cover, from Time, makes the same association:  "A dreamlike cross between The Virgin Suicides and The Lovely Bones".  Dreamlike? In a publicist's dreams.

I offer sincere apologies to Hannah Pittard for an unkind review. It is unduly harsh, fuelled both by my disappointment that her book failed to live up to its glowing press and also that it constantly brought to mind another, far finer novel.

1 comment:

  1. Me, keep a sharp eye on the publishing industry? Hardly. There have been days when I dropped the ball. These days I'm occupied with work and de-stressing afterwards.

    Many thanks for the mention!


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