Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Review: The Beginners

As I've mentioned before, my methodology for selecting books at the library is a little unorthodox.  I usually either have books held so I can pick them up after the kids select their books or I browse the new books online before we go and hope that one or two will be there.  In this case, I saw the new book The Beginners was filed under the subject headings Teenage Girls-Fiction and New England-Fiction.  When I quickly read the flap before checking it out, it sounded like a coming of age story set in Massachusetts with a supernatural twist (there was some mention of the Salem witch trials in the description).  It sounded interesting, not to mention the cover is beautiful and I tend to be swayed by gorgeous book covers.  I had genuinely high hopes for this book.  Then, they were pretty much immediately shattered.

I generally like most books I read.  They may not always be high literature (e.g. the Kendra Wilkinson book) or I may not like the subject matter (e.g. Push by Sapphire), but most of the time I can find something redeeming about a book.  Not so much here.  In fact, I dislike this book so much that I'm going to suspend with keeping the spoilers to myself because I want you to not waste your time on this book that much.  I hated it more than A Reliable Wife and we know how I felt about that book.

Here's a summary---
Fifteen year old Ginger lives in an average small Massachusetts town (I know this because I used to live in one.  I will give it to the author there --- her descriptions about the town were good enough that they brought back some pleasant memories of my time there).  When Raquel and Theo Motherwell, a 20 something couple, move into town Ginger thinks she's found her mentors.  They are educated and take an interest in her.  The couple tells her that they are doctoral candidates in history --- Theo specializing in the history of religion and Raquel in the Salem witch trials--- and that they moved to town to do research for their projects.   

Up until this point in the book, I really thought it would be okay.  The author's style came off as pretentious to me because she had the teenage narrator using way to many huge vocabulary words that no fifteen year old would ever use, but I was willing to read on.

Then, it just started getting weird.  The Motherwells start putting Ginger in all these sexual situations that she brushes off as coincidental---like them going swimming naked at the reservoir in front of her.  She overhears them having sex and suspects they may have known she was there and liked it.  Just downright weird.  Ginger starts thinking that she's encountering ghosts, but it's really the Motherwells messing with her.  

If that was weird, then it got really twisted.  Theo rapes Ginger's best friend.  Theo has sex with Ginger.  Theo confesses to Ginger that Raquel and he aren't really doctoral candidates but that they met in a psychiatric program.  Ginger continues hanging out with them and having sex with Theo with Raquel's knowledge.  I would have stopped reading, but at that point I was so close to the end I figured I might as well finish it up.  

In the end, Ginger finally is beginning to get a little bit leary of the Motherwells (but just a little bit) and the story abruptly ends when her best friend and her friend's boyfriend find her and Theo at the reservoir in yet another compromising sexual situation.  The boyfriend and Theo fight until Theo makes a run for it.  They don't find Raquel.  

In the epilogue, it's implied that Ginger ends up pregnant with Theo's baby but has an abortion.  After reading all this crap, the last couple sentences of the book were exceptionally frustrating:

Now, and now, and now again.  There is no end to this story, in my version or any other.  An X marks the spot where I rest, remain, and you can't tell from where you sit, or stand, if I am an X on a diagram---a place, a situation, a process---or a timeline.  If this is a map, or a history, or a beginning.

Now---what the hell is that supposed to mean in relation to the rest of the book?  Is it because the Motherwells are now gone (it's implied, but nope, you don't get told what happened to them) Ginger has a beginning...sort of...maybe not?  I wanted to throw my hands up over this one.  

Really I should have known how awful it was going to be based on the pretentious review (equal only to the pretentious language in this book) on the back cover:

What a marvel, what a wonder is The Beginners.  Rebecca Wolff fully awakens the spookiness and enchantment inherent in the encounter of a lonely, imaginative girl with a louche, disquieting couple new in town, her moonstruck passivity chiming with a ready feminine awareness---it made me think of Rilke in collaboration with Emily Bronte.  Wolff's novel is driven by a true bravery, an utter willingness to follow and ever-evolving narrative thread toward a complex, freshly astonishing state of consciousness.  Reading it, I kept being delighted by her gorgeous and incisive language and amazed by the rich, hypnotic places is opened before me.  This book is ravishing. --- Peter Straub, author of Shadowland and A Dark Matter

I couldn't disagree more.  And congratulations Peter Straub, based on your review of this book I will never read one of your books.  Ever.

And for your entertainment---there is actually a Youtube video promoting the book.  Sigh...

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