I can’t remember ever being quite so conflicted about writing a book review. Not because there is the slightest ambiguity concerning my reaction to the work – let me just say now that it has been a very, very long time since I have laughed/cried/been entertained by/been heartbroken by/been so thoroughly engaged by a work of fiction. I really loved this book – in fact, loved it so much that in spite of the fact that I was on vacation in San Francisco I managed to finish it in three days. Couldn’t put it down!
No, the point of conflict for me is not in giving my fullest endorsement. It was the winner of the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award, which should tell you everything you need to know. The conflict arises over how to tell you why you should read it without giving any of it away. It is the discovery – in fact, discoveries – that make this such an engrossing read. Around every turn there is something you didn’t know or suspect and to know anything in advance would surely destroy some – although not all – of the pleasure. . . and the pain.
So – I feel constrained in what I should say. And I’m not alone. Here’s what Barbara Kingsolver, a far more erudite reviewer than am I, had to say about this in The New York Times Sunday Book Review:
To experience this novel exactly as the author intended, a reader should avoid the flap copy and everything else written about it. Including this review. [Heed this advice – her review is full of spoilers!]
Several reviewers did attempt to parse some important themes while skirting others:
“This unforgettable novel is a dark and beautiful journey into the heart of a family . . .” (Dan Choan)
“You know how people say something is incredible or unbelievable when they mean it’s excellent? Well, Karen Joy Fowler’s new book is excellent: utterly believable and completely credible – a funny, moving, entertaining novel . . .” Dr. Mary Doria Russell
From Kirkus, “Rosemary’s voice – vulnerable, angry, shockingly honest – is so complex . . .Technically and intellectually complex, while emotionally gripping.”
In her review, Kingsolver also said, “A novel so readably juicy and surreptitiously smart, it deserves all the attention it can get . . . [Its] fresh diction and madcap plot bend the tone toward comedy, but it never mislays its solemn raison d’etre . . .”
Ruth Ozeki (A Tale for the Time Being) came the closest to identifying my own reading experience when she writes, “It’s been years since I’ve felt so passionate about a book. When I finished at 3 a.m., I wept, then I woke up the next morning, reread the ending, and cried all over again.”
I really have nothing to add except my full endorsement that you read this book. Right now. . . provided you have nothing else to do for the next eight to ten hours. Once you pick it up, you won’t want to put it down.