Why write a critique about a book you didn’t finish? In fact, I’ve often found it annoying to read reviews of books, only to realize the reviewer didn’t read the entire book and therefore, in my opinion, didn’t have the right to write a critique. But as the years have gone on, life seems all too short to spend time in the head of a protagonist that I didn’t enjoy or in a story that I didn’t find compelling. We’ve all had the experience of feeling obliged to continue a book even if we’re not feeling the joy of a great book. On the other hand, we’ve all also had the experience of staying up much later than planned, often to the wee hours of the night, because an author’s writing is so engrossing, the protagonist (or antagonist) can’t be left alone, or the story has us in such a state that putting it down just isn’t an option.
So, I’ve decided to document the books I’ve set aside and the reason. I hope others find this interesting and explore their own reasons for doing so. Now this is not to say that they won’t be picked up later…but in that case, I’ll tell the reasons why and how it worked out.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
How far? 4% on Audible or early in Chapter 3
Why I put it down: I was raised in Los Angeles where discussing the who’s who at parties one attended, or ran into at various locations, or neighbors of acquaintences is both frequent, often fictional or at least exaggerated, and downright boring. Very early on in this book I had that sickening feeling that I was returning to that world. I then turned to some reviews in the hope of finding myself dissuaded from this fear, only to see others report the same thing and even worse… the protagonist (Hemingway’s first wife) fell flat for many as a bystander to the brilliant, famous, and often misbehaving. I returned to the book briefly and was turned off by the image of women shopping and discussing how to attract men. I prefer my female protagonist (and my friends) to be more present in the world beyond the men they associate with. Additionally, the writing did not grab me, so I decided to move on.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
How far? 5% or middle of Chapter 1…thus NOT far at all
Why I put it down: This was recommended by a friend who had described the book very differently (I had very different expectations which may have thrown me off). I later learned that she had given me the incorrect name. She meant, and had described, The Glass Hotel.
Nonetheless, I started this one. But it is a memoir which is not my preference of books. Why? I’m a psychiatrist. I make my living hearing other people’s stories, or at least their current renditions of their stories. My job is not to understand truth (not a detective), but to understand that the telling and the current understanding is for a purpose and may (or may not) reflect historical truth. I love fiction because I am not distracted by this process of our often variably accurate memories. For those who love memoir, I hear this is excellent. But for me, can’t do it.
Lightning Strike by William Kent Kreuger
How far? Chapter 9 out of 65 chapters, or 11%
Why I put it down: Like may of these that I’ve decided to move on from, neither the characters nor the story made me feel compelled to continue. I think Krueger is a very good author, but I find his characters in this one to be a bit stilted, stoic maybe, but I couldn’t relate to their somewhat distant presentation. I felt like I was in the back of the audience, not fully engaged.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
How far? Middle of Chapter 3, or 1.4 hours in Audible.
Why I put it down: Neither the characters nor the story caught my interest, and there was sufficient seemingly unnecessary violence that I decided not to spend my time in this novel. The writing was too much “tell” and not enough “show.” I wanted to like and engage with the young female protagonist, but the writing left me trying to hard to that.
River Bodies by Karen Katchur
How far? 49% by Kindle
Why I put it down: Although the story caught my interest initially, I just couldn’t stay with it. The writing didn’t pull me in for some reason. It seemed jerky in some way. I couldn’t really ‘feel’ the reason behind the character’s actions. Maybe it’s always like that. Something that is hard to describe and always leaves me wondering if it’s me, whatever is going on in my life at the time, or the writing. Nonetheless, it don’t hold me. As always, maybe I’ll return later.
Whisper Me This by Kerry Anne King
How far? 32% by Kindle
Why I put it down: I didn’t find the protagonist compelling enough to stay with this one. She was clearly damaged, and that, in and of itself is not a problem (often the best protagonists are quite psychologically disturbed). If I were to guess (without having to read the entire book to find out), I would say that the author was trying to take us through the young mother’s experience of dealing with her own mother’s dying and her father’s dementia, all the while trying to sort out a history of abuse from these folks and have a budding new romance on the side. So far, so good. But, I wasn’t interested enough in mystery of this particular woman’s history to turn page after page to discover her hidden story, which tells me her initial presentation (at least up to 32%) didn’t make me like her enough for the required curiosity.
Additionally, the protagonist’s reliance on her young daughter to be the adult-in-the-room made me cringe. It left me without empathy for this young mother. I prefer strong female protagonists who rise above their own childhood traumas before passing on to their offspring the effects of having a psychologically unreliable parent, which, although it may not be as bad as overt abuse, is damaging to a young child nonetheless.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
How far? About 1/2 via Audible
Why I put it down: I am not a fan of magical realism. I’ve always known that, but thought I could get beyond it due to the compelling press this book and author received. This was chosen by my book club, and as it turned out none of the book club members finished, although one member said he was going to try to finish it and give us all feedback. We’ll see.