BOOK REVIEW: THE DOLL FACTORY by ELIZABETH MACNEAL

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Image result for the doll factory by elizabeth macnealMacneal writes well, but her book lacks a certain depth. Her characters’ motives are at once too transparent and too simple. You come to know The Doll Factory‘s characters, but that knowledge comes far too easily. The problem is that Macneal writes with an explicitness that leaves no room for the reader to figure anything out for themselves. Every feeling and motivation is unambiguously spelled out in a way that flattens rather than develops the novel’s characters. The result is characters so easily understandable that they’re rendered insubstantial. And so what you essentially get is the literary equivalent of giving a PhD math student a middle school math curriculum—what’s easy is not necessarily what will be interesting.

More than that though, and possibly even worse, Macneal’s characterization is often forced. I found this to be the case specially in her descriptions of Iris and her twin sister’s strained relationship. The strain in the relationship I didn’t understand very well, and the resolution of that strain I understood even less.

One more thing: I don’t like the way this story wraps up. For 90% of this novel, we’re focused on Iris’s story: her ambitions, her relationships, her emotions. And then suddenly the story turns into some kind of You-like stalker story with a completely different objective. It was jarring, and felt very markedly incongruous with the rest of the novel. Also, I just didn’t care about it lol.

Overall, a mediocre novel. It tries to do a lot, but never quite hits the mark.

three


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BOOK REVIEW: THE ARCHIVE OF ALTERNATE ENDINGS by LINDSEY DRAGER

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“It is easy to forget, but stories need not always have a purpose. We are quick to say that folktales have a moral or a lesson or a creed. But most of the stories that have survived the ages are told for one purpose only, and that purpose is to say this: ‘Being human is difficult. Here is some evidence.'”

Just absolutely exquisite storytelling. Drager has written a story about stories–in the moment of their telling and through time–and about the powerful bonds that tie siblings together. Her novel is sprawling and specific, widening and narrowing the scope of its story with beautiful fluidity. The biggest compliment I can give this book is, I would love to study it in class. Write essays about it. Talk about it with other people. It’s incredibly layered and genuinely meaningful, simple in a way that makes it affect you all the more.

“In order to record a tale, something must always be lost. Some things must be left unsaid and disguised. The art of storytelling, his brother said, is all about where and how to leave the voids.”

The Archive of Alternate Endings is by far the most surprising book of the year for me, not to mention a severely underrated one. I picked it up expecting nothing at all and finished it knowing it was a new favourite. I want to reread it already.

4.5-


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BOOK REVIEW: ASK AGAIN, YES by MARY BETH KEANE

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Ask Again, YesI enjoyed this novel, but I can’t say that I felt at all passionately about it. It kept me reading, and I did indeed read it to completion, but I’m not sure how much of a compliment that actually is.

The thing about this novel is, it does a lot more telling than it does showing. If a character feels a certain way, I want to be able to see that feeling in what they say and do. I want to have the ability to determine for myself what that feeling actually is. That’s the beauty of dialogue-driven novels (see: literally anything that Sally Rooney has ever written): they trust you to understand the emotional scaffolding beneath their characters’ conversations. But Keane doesn’t really do dialogue. Ask Again, Yes is very light on the talking, with huge time skips wherein characters undergo major life changes all in the space of a couple of paragraphs. And this just didn’t work for me. I wanted to spend time in these characters’ big moments. I wanted to let them percolate, see how they seeped outwards into characters’ lives, their spouses, parents, children. But they didn’t, and because of this, what I felt like I ended up getting is just a series of dramatic occurrences strung together; that is to say, a plot- rather than character-driven novel.

As for what I thought about the actual substance of that plot, I’d say that none of it really surprised me, and probably won’t surprise you either. Ask Again, Yes was made of the stuff of standard suburban family dramas, with some plot points more fleshed out than others. Really, a lot of them felt less organic and more like they were included just because Keane was trying to win a game of Literary Family Drama bingo.

One last thing: I’m not sure I feel entirely comfortable with the event that this novel hinges on. I don’t like what it says about mental illness; in fact, it felt like it was contributing to a commonly held belief about those with mental illness–that they’re violent–that’s not just untrue, but also particularly stigmatizing.

In the end, Ask Again, Yes held me at arm’s length, so it’s really no surprise that my feelings about it were much the same as its treatment of its characters: lukewarm.

three


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