rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
2011-12-30 13:17

In the Woods, by Tana French

Rarely have I been so glad that I checked a book out of the library rather than buying it.

I picked up this bait-and-switch "mystery" because of the intriguing premise detailed on the back cover:

Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, land the first big murder case of their police careers: a 12-year-old girl has been murdered in the woods adjacent to a Dublin suburb. Twenty years before, two children disappeared in the same woods, and Ryan was found clinging to a tree trunk, his sneakers filled with blood, unable to tell police anything about what happened to his friends. Ryan, although scarred by his experience, employs all his skills in the search for the killer and in hopes that the investigation will also reveal what happened to his childhood friends.

SPOILER: Ha ha! Thought you'd find out what happened when he was a kid, right? Ha ha!

The majority of the book is about Ryan investigating a current mystery whose solution seems quite obvious and cliched, and having a cliched and annoying affair with his partner. Periodically, he tries to dig into far, far more interesting mystery of his past, and also the question of why he still can't remember anything about it. He regains tantalizing snippets of memories while investigating and finally figuring out the incredibly obvious solution to the current mystery, which I guessed a hundred pages before he did.

The current mystery comes to a deeply unsatisfying resolution, Read more... )

And then I metaphorically hurled the book across the room with great and metaphorical force.

I have ranted about this before (see hirshberg tag), but I HATE it when something is set up as a mystery which will have a solution, and then the author fails to solve the mystery and instead writes, "Like real life, some things are unknowable and some mysteries are never solved, so this too will have no resolution."

IT'S A MYSTERY NOVEL. It's up to the AUTHOR whether or not to solve the mystery.

I don't mind open-ended conclusions and having to draw my own conclusions about some things, but I very much dislike it when something is set up as a puzzle, and then not solved because it's "realistic." All else aside, in real life things aren't so clearly set up as puzzles!

Why this won the Edgar is beyond me.

In the Woods
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
2009-08-19 13:02

The Snowman’s Children, by Glen Hirshberg

I picked this up because I had enjoyed some of Hirshberg’s atmospheric short stories, like "Mr. Dark's Carnival." The first four-fifths or so of this novel, which intercuts a man’s return to the town of his childhood with the story of the fateful year when a serial child-killer called the Snowman stalked the town, had me enthralled with its narrative momentum and beautiful prose.

Then – I don’t think this is a spoiler, under the circumstances – I began to worry that Hirshberg had no intention of solving any of the fascinating mysteries he’d set up. Sure enough, he didn’t, leaving me dissatisfied and retroactively frustrated with the entire book.

I don’t think all details must be filled in and all plots must be resolved, but when a great deal of the plot of a novel depends on a mystery, I am not happy when it’s never solved. I wouldn’t mind in nonfiction, where the writer has no choice, but if Hirshberg had wanted to, he could have told us who the Snowman was and whether or not he really kidnapped one of the characters. I am not consoled by the subtext that much in life is mysterious and unknowable when it’s the author’s choice to set up a huge mystery, and the author’s choice to leave it dangling. And the very brief suggestion about what might have happened to the Snowman struck me as overreaching and unbelievable.

Read more... )

The novel, though realistic, felt as if it could slip into fantasy at any moment. It reminded me of several other novels with the same general idea, of a retrospective view of a boy’s childhood in a small town in a long-lost age that isn’t really that long ago, crushes on girls, boy-boy bonding, children’s games, mysterious adults, the vivid life now lost the adult the boy became, and over all that nostalgia a terrifying looming menace: Stephen King’s It, Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night, A Boy's Life by Robert McCammon, and many works by Ray Bradbury.

This seems to be almost entirely a male genre. I can only think of one book with the same mood that was written by a woman and focuses on a girl, Rumer Godden’s The Greengage Summer, and the menace in that does not loom large and periodically attack (a key feature of the other books) but rather appears out of the blue toward the end, and is also a very different and much less mythic type of menace. (A charming man who turns out to be a dangerous criminal, as opposed to a serial killer or a supernatural evil.)

I wonder if women are less drawn to the odd mixture of romanticized nostalgia and horror, or if publishers subconsciously think that’s ineluctably masculine and don’t buy such books when women write them, or what. I do notice that women seem less likely to romanticize childhood in general, however fondly they recall it, and less likely to see their childhoods as the best part of their lives. Maybe American boys have more freedom than girls, and so girls are more likely to prefer the independence they gain with adulthood to the lack of responsibility they had as children?

The Snowman's Children: A Novel