Tuesday, November 4, 2008
So - the big news is I've found myself a bookgroup! I rank finding a bookgroup I enjoy right up there with finding an OB/GYN, hair stylist, pediatrician, dentist, and babysitter after a move. I'm simply not settled until I have a group with whom I can meet and discuss things.
I was told the group planned on discussing Away by Amy Bloom, so I hoped beyond hope that I could find it at the library instead of buying the unproven book. I did and I'm lucky I did.
This is NOT a book I enjoyed. Apparently, Amy Bloom is a successful short story author and Away is her first attempt at a novel. Unfortunately for us readers, Away, while a novel's size in length, does not contain a novel's size plot. It has lots of side stories and a sort of light at the end of the tunnel to get you to keep reading, but a journey is not a plot and I found myself weary of the main character, Lillian Leyb, and her journey to find her possibly alive daughter, Sophie.
More than that, I found Lillian's character, the one and only consistant character from beginning to end, to be underdeveloped. I knew the kinds of shoes she wore, but I was given very little information about her personality. Did she enjoy being a mother? Did she love her husband? Does she want to be an American? The author writes her as extremely motivated without detailing her motivation. It's frustrating.
Her story begins as she looks for work and opportunity as a newly landed immigrant in New York City during the 1920s. Destitute and alone after the murder of her family in Russia, there is a coldness and lack of feelings to her actions. She seems to believe and act upon the philosophy that a desired end justifies any means.
Again, the story flounders because Bloom never really tells us what end Lillian wants. For the first 100 pages, she seems to merely want security but not necessarily happiness. When she receives news of her daughter who is possibly alive and possibly living in Siberia, the story suddenly changes and her sole desire is her daughter. The story's dramatic change from an immigrant's survival guide to a not-without-my-daughter drama doesn't work. The stories aren't really necessary tied together and the novel unravels into a series of short stories - none of which are particularly enjoyable as they each describe Lillian among the morally bankrupt as she impossibly attempts to find her daughter.
The delays and harships along the way (and along the way I mean from New York to Siberia via Alaska) have an almost circus-like horror to them. Any one of the situations Bloom puts Lillian in, starting with the massacre she witnesses while still in Russia) would be enough to defeat the strongest of women - if not kill them. Add to the implausibility of Lillian's survival the lack of background development to even care that mother and daughter are reunited and Away becomes a very fragmented and unfulfilling story.