Sunday, May 29, 2011
Faith, the new novel by Jennifer Haigh, deals with the molestation charge against a Boston priest, and how it affects him and his family. In the hands of a less-skilled author than Haigh, a "ripped from the headlines" novel like this can easily sink into cliches and rely on stereotypes. But the author does a great job of fleshing out the characters, the major ones and the minor ones, feeding the reader information as needed, building their characters and motivations through actions and well-written dialogue.
Unlike the film Doubt, this isn't necessarily a did-he-or-didn't-he story. It focuses on the interplay and history of characters more. Regardless of innocence or guilt, the story focuses on the faith people have in their family, and themselves (and their religion, of course). Not everything is always as it seems, Haigh keeps you guessing, and even has a few surprises along the way.
My only complaint is the author's choice of using the priest's sister Sheila as the narrator of the story. In the beginning it kept me, the reader, at a distance. Like I was hearing the story secondhand. I got used to it by the second half of the book, and I understand why she chose to do this. It was to make it more personal—someone from the family was telling the priest's story. So maybe I was okay with the author using this device to tell the story after all; I just didn't find the narrator's voice particularly compelling, or her character very interesting. In fact, out of all the well-drawn characters, hers was the least developed.
I had never read anything by Haigh before, but she is an excellent writer, and I will have to pick up her earlier novels.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Monday, May 09, 2011
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
I'm a fan of filmmaker Albert Brooks (his movie Lost in America is still one of my all-time favorite comedies). He's a writer, director, actor, and has done voice work for The Simpsons. So when I saw that he had written a novel--and I had the opportunity to get an advance reading copy from the Amazon Vine program--I jumped on it.
2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America takes a look at the problems America is facing now, and moves them forward nineteen years. Of course, most things are worse in the not-too-distant future. The country is deeper in debt, young people are more disillusioned, and a 9.0 earthquake has leveled L.A., for which America has to borrow money from China to rebuild. Even the seemingly good stuff--like the long awaited cure for cancer--has bad elements (old people are now living much longer, and draining the health care system).
From his filmmaking, I expected this novel to be a comedy. It's not, though Brooks's trademark humor is evident throughout, especially in some of the dialogue which, not surprisingly for a scriptwriter, is sharp and realistic.
Brooks does an excellent job of weaving the disparate story lines of his various main characters together. There is eighty year-old Brad Miller who loses everything in the earthquake; twenty year-old Kathy Bernard who is saddled with her father's exorbitant medical bills; and U.S. President Bernstein, who is frantically trying to plug all the holes that are appearing in the dam that is America--not to mention his personal life, and his looming re-election campaign.
Brooks keeps the action moving, and the chapters short. Each individual story line pushes the whole plot forward, but not predictably, so even though the reader has an idea of where it might be heading, Brooks still keeps you guessing, and takes some chances so as not to make the whole story feel pat.
This is a strong first novel by Albert Brooks; I hope there will be many more!