There are aspects of the novel you just love. You've laughed to the point of teary eyes, you've been so sucked into a character's travails that you almost burned dinner. And yet, by book's end your enthusiasm has taken a nap with no wake up time in sight. This has been my experience twice lately.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan was not (as some of you know) a book I wanted to read, but when it was selected for a work book club last month, I played nice and read it. And for all of us, the experience was nearly the same. Everyone was starting the book and running around school to tell each other how great they thought it was and then there was a serious reading slow down at a little over halfway through, and then the ending was universally panned. The last chapter reaches out into the future to make a final connection for these interconnected stories that so sharply departs from the elegance of the prior loose and tangential ties between story lines that a reader might justifiably wince at the awkwardness of it. Gimmicky in a way I did not expect given that Egan made a chapter that took the form of a Powerpoint emotionally powerful and not at all forced.
Then there was Cooking With Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson that had me laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of two awkward neighbors who alternate in viewpoint to reveal how they have misjudged one another in that awkwardness while ingesting a steady flow of Fernet Branca that both claim to hate but think the other loves. The whole tale is absurd but never betrays any cognizance of its own absurdity, lending an even sharper focus upon the myriad of details that makes this march through the ridiculous delicious. But it soon becomes apparent that the story line is inconsequential to the playful banter, and having to wade through the overcomplicated to arrive at a place less well-appointed than the beginning promised annoyed me. Forced my way through last third of the novel.
Did you like it? The question the bookish put to the bookish. I find that impossible to answer in some cases like these. I thought I did. And then I didn't. But the parts I disliked made me so steadfast in wanting to distance myself from the whole that I was conflicted about still claiming the parts that touched or excited me. Like dating gone bad for the immature. If you no longer want them then they must be wholly dismissed.