In the early days of this blog, I fell all over myself trying to express how much I loved the author’s novel, The Post-Birthday World–that book’s now one of my most favorite novels evahr. This produced one particular drawback: I steered clear of her work, just certain that nothing will match the awesomeness of TPBW. I found her books in secondhand bookstores and BookSales, and I told myself, NO.
This way of thinking, I realize now, is sort of stupid, haha. Oh, Sasha of little faith–did I really think that one not-as-good book would ruin a great experience forever? And so I settled to read one of Lionel Shriver‘s earlier novels, A Perfectly Good Family (with thanks to Erica, who hosted a giveaway!)
And I was extremely disappointed. It wasn’t just because it failed to live up to my expectations. [See, TPBW made such an impact in my life–both the reading one and the real one–that I’m resigned to the fact that a lot of Shriver’s backlist would likely pale in comparison (I mean, a lot of novels by other authors can’t hold a candle to that book, me thinks). But Shriver is a good writer–just because the story of that other book so gripped me, doesn’t mean her storytelling’s chopped liver. That is, expectations aside:] this novel failed to be good read. On its own merit (or shortage thereof).
Now that we have that out of the way, an elaboration is in order. See, well, the novel centers around a triumvirate of incredibly flawed siblings–Mordecai, Truman, and our narrator Corlis McCrea. Their parents are dead, and their wrangling over their inheritance, which is mostly Heck-Andrews (an historic North Carolina mansion built after the Civil War). Sounds straightforward enough, I guess?
Yes:  This book cements my opinion that Shriver’s a masterful character writer. Although the characters run the gamut of archetypal to cliché to stereotypical to whoayouareannoying, they’re all well-written. They’re solid people, incredibly flawed, often annoying. Very often annoying. But I was annoyed at them as people–because as characters, they’re seamless. Shriver takes her time exploring the characters, even if it means exploring why one is such an archetype/stereotype/cliché.  Shriver’s language is flawless. Intelligent, though off-putting at times [did I just say that intelligence was off-putting?!]. Okay. That is, the voice of the narrator was just so distinct, and it’s in her voice that we learn of this story. And Corlis, well, Corlis isn’t always the most appealing person on earth. Anyway. The language. I liked. Yes. Leave it at that. Yeah, I should put in a quote as an example–because how can people draw their own conclusions? Heh? Well. Never mind. Too lazy. Too navel-gazing-y. Carry on.
No:  Just the plot, you know? How it develops. The premise was intriguing enough, but the story lacked something. Something like heart? Something like sense? Something like unpredictability? What does it say that for most of the novel, I was moaning, “Why don’t you just do this? The solution’s so obvious!” And at the end I’d gone, “Oh no you bleeping didn’t!” It made me feel like the book was–despite the language, despite the characters–largely a waste of time.
GAH. I’ll probably make more sense the more time I spent away from this book. It was meh. The whole experience was meh. Oh, it had its high points, but I should’ve taken the hint when the book had been Currently Reading for too many days. Damned novel refused to end. Augh. I should’ve stayed clear of Shriver. But I suspect that I picked the wrong book to reacquaint myself with.
You’re off to a nice start, March.
Some random reading-in-general notes:  Echoes of The Believers by Zoe Heller, with all that unlikable-families shtick.  I still think The Post-Birthday World is one of the best novels ever, but I am incredibly biased.  Am reading next: I was looking at the Sasha Shelf here at P.’s, and figured Sudden Rain by a new-to-me author, Maritta Wolff, would do okay for my next book. But. I don’t know anymore, haha.