Monday, February 16, 2009

Book #11: 'How to Be Lost' by Amanda Eyre Ward

Note: I've started doing the Cannonball Read 5K (5 books in 2 weeks, each 400 pages long) and am posting my first review later today. This one was done a few days ago and I completely forgot to read it. Have to do the review for 'The Hours' as well. After that, the reviews will be for the 5 books.

"How to be Lost" by Amanda Eyre Ward

It's been only two weeks, but I've almost completely forgotten what this book was about. I read it very quickly, and on the whole it was just mediocre, bland and forgettable, nothing remarkable. Another strike in my Cannonball List.

Flipping through it, I vaguely remembered what little plot there was. Caroline Winters is a single, 30-something year old daughter of a filthy rich family from upstate New York. Yet for some reason she works as a waitress in a sad bar in New Orleans, living in a sad apartment with a sad cat and no love life. It isn't until about halfway through the book that we finally get to learn why Caroline lives like this—her 5 year old sister, Ellie, disappeared out of the blue almost 15 years ago. On top of that, her father was an abusive alcoholic, her mother is a depressed, rich widow living by herself in a huge New York house, and her sister is married and pregnant and seems constantly depressed. In fact, everyone in this book is constantly sad. Everything that happens is dull and sad. Everyone Caroline meets is sad. Everything she does is sad. And I didn't even care.

The book is kind of a mess. The first part had me thinking this was going to be yet another tale of a sad spinster who only needs to take control of her life to be happy, who is constantly talking about her messed-up family and the many woes of her life. And that thought held through when Caroline goes to visit her family for Christmas. What's so wrong with her family, I wondered? They were a little strange, yes, but nothing to explain the tension Ward kept inserting into their conversations. It made absolutely no sense. It's only then that she randomly introduces the main conflict of the little sister's disappearance. Um, ok…ay? I remember thinking. It just didn't fit at all. It felt forced and cloying, trying to tug at your heartstrings in an obvious and clunky manner. She then (again, rather randomly) has Caroline's mother find a photograph of a girl in Montana who could be Ellie, and so Caroline decides to drop everything in her life and take off to Montana to find her. I guess it's ok to do that when you work as a waitress but have your mother's fortune behind her.

This second part of the book is horrible. Caroline gets to Montana and wanders around for a while, and then bam! Finds some girl who might or might not be Ellie. She doesn't really seem to care much. I cared even less. It was filler and nothing else, because from the first we know the truth, and this girl's story never goes anywhere. Caroline gives up and goes back. That's it. A completely irrelevant, uninteresting trip that only serves to remind us what a sad sack Caroline is.

In between chapters, Ward does something that's odd, distracting and just very clumsy. She inserts letters from some woman named Agnes Fowler, to various characters we never get to meet. The tone of them makes it seem like they're written by a lonely octogenarian librarian, but we eventually learn that this is only a very strange 20 year old girl. Who doesn't remember her mother. Whose father was very protective and would never let her go outside. Who doesn't remember much about her life before she was 6 or 7. Do I really need to tell you what the big 'twist' at the end is? Yeah. That's how painful and obvious it was.

I just never got what this book was supposed to be about, or how I was supposed to feel about it. Ward is constantly changing her tone and manner of writing; going from present tense to awkwardly placed flashbacks and then the letters. I could see what she was going for, it's just not very well done at all. Ward wants to go for sad and touching, and instead it's dull and uninteresting, cheap and awkward sentimentality.

I'm not saying losing a sister isn't something we can all sympathize with, it's just that Ward's writing is so clunky and painfully sentimental that she never really connects with the reader. The book is just nothing remarkable. There's nothing new or interesting or intriguing about it, just bland and forgettable.

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