This was a mess. Bear with me as I attempt to break down all the ways in which this book simply did not work for me:
I can tell you about our protagonist, Bodie Kane–she’s a professor and the co-host of a podcast–but really what needs to be said about her is that she was a poorly developed and frankly just irritating character. Sure, we learn a lot about the things that have happened to her–the death of several of her family members, her living with her foster family of sorts, her time at Granby–but it never really feels like we get a good grasp of who she actually is. I will go more into this in my “Themes” section, but Bodie was also just a bizarrely obtuse and naïve character; given her education and job it baffled me that she was so blindsided by things that you would’ve expected her to at least be generally aware of. (I would mention other characters in this section, but there is literally no one that comes to mind as an even remotely developed character for me to discuss.)
In a word: boring. Every single time I’ve seen I Have Some Questions For You it’s been described as a literary something: a “literary thriller,” a “literary mystery,” “literary dark academia.” The question of what “literary” means, exactly, is not one that I’m going to attempt to answer here, but as a literary fiction reader myself I can tell you that there is nothing “literary” about this novel. And the biggest indicator of that to me is its utterly unimpressionable and vanilla writing. The writing is so opaque and simplistic that it flattens an already tenuously constructed story, foreclosing any kind of complexity or nuance that we could’ve gotten. The nicest thing I can say about the writing is that it was serviceable, but given how much this was touted as a “literary” novel, I was expecting something more complex, compelling, interesting, distinct–something that was, in short, not what I got.
I’ve saved the best–or, in this case, the worst–for last. Where to begin? I Have Some Questions For You is a novel that is trying so desperately and painfully hard to offer Deep Commentary, and its attempts are unsuccessful at best and laughable at worst. Having finished the novel, I’m struggling to understand what its takeaway is supposed to be, exactly. That violence against women is rampant? That the criminal justice system is unfair, especially to Black men? Is this news to literally anyone? The latter seems to be a shocking revelation to Bodie: she’s teaching a mini course at Granby for 2 weeks, and then she starts to think, Maybe the Black man who they did a rush job of investigating and convicting for the death of this girl was…not guilty after all? This is what I mean by Bodie being obtuse and naïve: she spends exactly 2 weeks back at Granby as an adult and suddenly she thinks she’s made a groundbreaking revelation by pointing out that this investigation involving a Black man in a majority white town was mishandled. It felt like the entire premise of the book was just “white woman discovers systemic injustice exists.” And I’m not saying that you can’t explore these topics in a novel, but your take cannot simply be “women experience violence” or “the criminal justice system is unjust.” Like surely you can dig deeper than that, surely this cannot be your groundbreaking take. (Especially when your novel is 400 whole pages–how did this book manage to say so little in so many pages???)
What makes this all so frustrating to me is that the novel thinks it’s achieving these heights of sophisticated commentary that it is no way, shape, or form achieving, or even coming close to achieving. Here’s a passage demonstrating Bodie’s incredible and never-been-thought-of-before insights on incarceration:
“Here’s something for you to chew on, Mr. Bloch, something I’ve dwelt on a lot over the past few years. The hell of imprisonment isn’t the terrible food, it’s the lack of choice of food. It isn’t the cold, wet floor, it’s that you can’t choose another place to stand. It isn’t the confinement so much as the fact of never running, never getting in your car and speeding off, as Omar loved to do.”
Like?? Is Bodie just now discovering the concept of prison?? Is she just now finding out that when people are in prison they lack choices?? I am just baffled as to what this novel thinks it’s offering us, exactly, beyond facile, elementary commentary that fails to actually comment on anything in any meaningful or substantial way.
(And this is to say nothing of the unnecessary and inane side plots that we get throughout the novel: at one point Bodie gets cancelled on Twitter?? And she’s also in some kind of sad situationship with a random guy who exists for plot convenience reasons?? This novel really did not need to be 400 pages.)
All the issues I have with I Have Some Questions For You boil down to the fact that it was just an incredibly shallow novel–and not just a shallow novel, but a shallow novel that thought it was being so incredibly deep. The biggest compliment I can give this book is that I didn’t DNF it; that’s about as far as I’m going to go in terms of positives. It was unexceptional, messy, underwhelming, and frustrating. Needless to say, it did not live up to the hype for me.
4 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: I HAVE SOME QUESTIONS FOR YOU by REBECCA MAKKAI”
I haven’t been particularly drawn to this one but am happy now to give it a miss. That quote about prison is rough – is anyone surprised that when you’re in prison you lack personal choice???
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yeah its just been so hyped and i feel like if Makkai’s previous novel (The Great Believers, which i havent read) hadnt been so successful then this new one wouldnt have been as hyped. and right??? i kind of glossed over that quote the first time i read it then when i was writing my review i remembered it and was like hold on a minute lol. 😬😬😬
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I’ve been waiting for this one (and then didn’t actually read it for a few weeks, haha). Yeesh that quote is dire. I don’t think a novel needs to have takeaways, in terms of theme, sophisticated or not, BUT, if it doesn’t, it has to have something else going for it like, you know, the writing. Sounds like the novel just fails all around. Which is exactly how I felt about The Great Believers. It felt like a padded Wikipedia article.
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yeah i definitely agree about a novel
not needing to have takeaways — thing is, this particular novel is trying SO hard to have takeaways lol. or at least that was the vibe i got. it tries to tackle so many things–Me Too, the ethics of true crime, the criminal justice system–but never manages to actually do anything with those things. i would definitely be more open to trying The Great Believers since its a different story and ive heard more positive things about it but honestly after this novel (and your comment) i am extremely hesitant to say the least 😬