Today is another meeting of Literary Wives, where a group of bloggers get together and review a book about being a wife. If you have read this month’s book and would like to participate, leave comments on any of our blogs. Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!
- Ariel of One Little Library
- Carolyn of Rosemary and Reading Glasses
- Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
- Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
- Naomi of Consumed By Ink
One thing I can say about The Shoemaker’s Wife. It provoked discussion in our household. After reading the novel’s first two paragraphs to my husband, I asked, “Does this qualify as purple prose?” and he answered, “It’s at least very mauve.” In any case, the novel is packed with labored metaphors, some of which leave us readers with very odd mental images—for example, a comparison of the Alps to silver daggers.
The novel is based on the story of Trigiani’s grandparents, a couple who met as teenagers in the Italian Alps and then were separated by circumstances for years. I haven’t read any of Trigiani’s other books, but along with many other writers these days, she doesn’t seem to understand in this novel that making things happen to her characters doesn’t automatically make readers care what happens to them. Her characters have traits, but they don’t have any emotional depth, so we don’t care about them.
A specific example of this comes early in the book, when the girl Enza’s little sister dies. Abstractly, the death of a child is sad, but since we barely know Enza and we just met Stella a few paragraphs before she died, we don’t feel much about it. If we had a sense of the child or the older sister, we would care more.
I was unable to finish this book, so I can’t answer the usual Literary Wives questions about it. Realizing I was not enjoying it at all, I decided to read a quarter of it and if I still felt like I was wasting my time, to stop. It is a very long book, so I read about 120 pages, and Ciro and Enza had just met by then, with Ciro banished to America immediately after. When I quit reading, Ciro was on the ship to New York. So, no answers to questions about how wives are depicted in this book, not even about the main character’s mothers. Ciro’s mother abandons her sons at a convent at the beginning of the book because she can’t support them and is never seen again, and Enza’s mother is a vaguely drawn figure who simply works hard.
All novels aren’t character driven, but for me there has to be something that makes a novel interesting besides the plot. Sometimes it’s the voice of a compelling character, sometimes a puzzle, sometimes a fascination with the subject or world view being described, but it has to be something.
While I’m writing this, I’m thinking of examples, about how Agatha Christie could create a distinct character in a few sentences, not a nuanced one, but a distinct one nevertheless. I’m thinking how in The Secret Garden we immediately recognize Mary as an unlikable child, but we can see how the fear of waking to find everyone gone from her home in India has made her more demanding, and we sympathize. I’m thinking of how hard I cried when Beth died in Little Women. And I’m thinking how fascinated I was by 18th century Japan in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.
Read along with us in February, when we will be reading and commenting on The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Caroly Erickson.