Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"J" is for...

Jordan Groves of The Reserve by Russell Banks (reponse to Historical Tapestry's Alphabet Challenge)

Ah, The Reserve. I passed by this book on a clearance table a few times, intrigued by the lovely cover art, drawn in by the time period (Depression Era), enjoying the snippets of writing I gleaned from between the bronzy covers, but leery of the storyline depicted in on the inside flap.

As it turned out, this was a rather good assessment of the book I ultimately decided to buy. The writing was, for the most part, engaging and painted a lovely picture of the scenic Adirondacks, where the story unfolds. It had its moments of repetitiveness and the occasional trite turn of a phrase, but for the most part, enjoyable writing.

The plot, however...well, that was what I found difficulty with. And the characters. Jordan is an artist with leftist political leanings and the heart of a rogue, though why he feels a wanderlust and a need to fight for the underdog isn't explained beyond the fact that he is an artist (clearly, if the stereotype fits, wear it out). He is happily married but cheats on his wife anyway, a trait that I really can't get past. Unfaithful and torn? Sure, I'll read it and buy it. A philandering cad with no remorse? Sorry, can't get behind you.

Jordan falls for the daughter of one of his town's wealthy elite, a summer resident of the rustic, yet hoity-toity, camps. If Jordan had been the only stereotyped character, I could have dealt and moved on. But Vanessa fits rather perfectly the poor-little-rich-girl trope, with an added dose of crazy. The only intriguing parts about her character--her mental instability--are questioned throughout the book, and never fully resolved. Had they been developed into a proper twist--you think she's bats but she isn't, or her accusations of childhood abuse turn out to be, shockingly, true, providing explanation--this would be an intriguing facet. However--she's simply depicted as unstable with little explanation offered and a hazy understanding as to her rationale of why she's upset at her parents. Is it true, or is she just nutty? Wish I knew.

You know, of course, that they're going to fall for one another. Unavoidable. And, of course, that their mutual imbalance is going to cause grevious injury to everyone they both touch. Now, maybe there's something to be said for a traditional tragedy, but be warned--this book is not an upper. And people who deserve better get dragged down with the mess. Perhaps that was Banks' point--that no one deserves better. Still, it was a bit rough to watch.

The saving grace of the book for me (which other reviewers disliked) were the flash forwards that grounded the book in important events of the 1930s and showed, by the end, the final tragic demises of both Jordan and Vanessa. I enjoyed seeing how historical events crept into the book, in subtle ways that were finally exposed clearly by the end.
An interesting delve into a beautiful place at a fascinating time...but unreedemable characters bogged this down for me in the end. I took it with me on a trip to Seattle...and left it there.


Kat Zhang said...

Oh, I don't think I could ever leave behind a book, no matter how horrid it was! Of course, I never buy a book unless I already know it's going to be good :) Good characters are often more important to me than a good plot, though, so I don't think this would be the book for me.

Sarah said...

I've had this one staring at me from my bookshelves for the past few months. The gorgeous cover caught me, as did the setting. I wasn't expecting an uplifting book and it sounds like I won't get it! But I expect I'll be reading it anyway. Thanks for the review!

Lua said...

You are right about the cover Rowenna- it looks amazing but I’m sorry to hear about the plot.
The ear however, sounds pretty interesting, I don’t think I’ve read too many books that took place in the depression era so maybe I’ll give this one a go :) Thanks for the great review.

Rowenna said...

I suppose I should clarify to be less harsh, Kat--I left it in Seattle...with a friend who thought she'd read it :) So I didn't leave it homeless!

Sarah and Lua--I wonder if part of my clear bitterness (erm...) was because I had such high hopes from the setting, era, and of course the beautiful cover. Still, it's worth reading and isn't at all long to get through.

Marg said...

That cover is very eyecatching, but I don't know if it something that I want to read!

Thanks for your continued participation in the Alphabet challenge.

Cat said...

It is a beautiful cover - I would have be drawn to reading this too.

I have another book by Russell Banks which I plan to read for a challenge - The Darling.

Great review!

Steph said...

Thanks for the honest review. It sounds like this novel had a lot of potential -- it's a shame the character development was so weak.