Sunday, September 25, 2011

It's everybody's fault

Book: Somebody Else’s Daughter

Author: Elizabeth Brundage

Pages: 338

Published: 2008 (Viking)

Somewhere (“way outside of Yonkers…”) there is a book jacket painted with an artistically blurred family portrait of a mom and dad and baby girl in which only the little girl’s face is completely in focus, or a book jacket painted with a stark bloody picture of a murdered hooker in a plaid skirt propped up against a tree with snow getting in her hair. Either would fit this story about a small private school community that basically gets ripped apart when all the grownups around can’t contain their secrets (money and a wife from the porn industry, a not-really-accidental murder at the last school they headed, eating disorders, general paranoia).

And the new writing teacher gets swept up in everything as the biological dad of Willa (one of the school girls) who takes this job because he wants to see how his daughter is doing in her adopted family. He hasn’t seen Willa since he and his drug-addict wife gave up Willa at her birth, and nobody knows who he really is for 99% of the book. He’s just kinda there, hanging out and teaching and reading her writing class journal and trying to make sure she doesn’t get into trouble in as discreet a way as he can. That’s, um, sweet? Or creepy, maybe? A little?

I don’t like how this book is written: third person omniscient that gives away all the secrets in blobs of thought-exposition before any of it has a chance to make for real dramatic tension. It decentralizes the plot to the point where I was reading about how the headmaster was the one who murdered a hooker because she was pregnant from him and I was going, “So, this? This is what everything’s supposed to lead to, right? Dead hooker usually automatically indicates climax in a community melodrama, so…I’m going with yes.”

I don’t like the character growth, either. When I first met them, the characters seemed promising: an adopted girl who’s got a great life but is starting to get uneasy enough to explore her identity through sex and her biological roots; a liberal sculptor of a mom who will have to mold her son a little more than she wants to so they can both survive the school year; a porn producer father and husband who’s starting to feel extreme guilt about how he makes his family’s money; an angry young girl who doesn’t know how to deal with her anger or sideline status and starts lashing out.

But do any of them do things that make character sense after the shit starts going down? NOT REALLY, NO.

What especially bothered me, like, took me out of the story bothered me, was the “conversation” the adults had the first night they met. They were basically throwing around buzzwords about feminism without actually saying anything to each other, which would be fine except this was supposed to be a very revealing conversation, how they all got to know each other, because they never got together in groups larger than happily/transcendentally or unhappily/forcefully screwing couples for the rest of the book.

And, and—the porn guy starts off as super misogynistic, but that turns off abruptly and is never mentioned again when the sculptor lady starts an affair with him but then that just ends and dies as one of like five subplots (most of which are about sex or love) that only get mentioned when hookers aren’t getting murdered.

Sorry to dwell on that part, but I keep mentioning it to remind myself that it happened and was supposed to be dramatically important, because in all honesty there was no reason it should have been.  

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