Still a fan

As much as I love my Kindle, when an author I absolutely love comes out with a new book, I plunk down the cash for the hardcover version with nary a tremor of apprehension. I’m already convinced I will love it and therefore I must have its colored spine to gaze at – from one of my many bookshelves – for the next forty years. Kindle books are convenient but they’ve no colored spines for gazing or pages for smelling or heft for holding.

So when I recently scurried down to my fave indie bookstore, Warwicks, to hear Geraldine Brooks speak and to get her new book, Caleb’s Crossing, I wanted to drop everything I was reading at the moment to devour it, the minute I got home. I was hoping for the magnetic pull of Year of Wonders and the dreadful pathos of March (for which she won the Pulitzer) and sheer mastery of People of the Book, and I guess you can already tell, that’s not exactly what happened.

I liked this book. A lot. But it didn’t capture me like her other books have. I can’t see reading it again anytime soon. And I don’t know why. It must be me. She’s a brilliant wordsmith, so I am thinking it must just be me. I loved hearing her talk about this book – she’s a delight to listen to – and I am in awe of her ability to capture a story with pinpoint accuracy. She based this tale on an actual event, and I’m sure she stuck to the facts, and in that awe I must remember that a true historian doesn’t mess with the truth to make the story more interesting. But I found Caleb’s story sad, and the narrator Bethia’s story sad. And not in the way I was moved to tears by Brooks’ other protagonists in other novels.  There is a sadness that pulls me to the heart of a character and then there’s a sadness that makes me want to back away. I didn’t emotionally connect with the characters in this book. My fault, I’m sure.

And the most ridiculous thing? I wanted Caleb (the first Native American to attend Harvard) and Bethia (a young Colonial woman with no rights and a giving heart no one respects) to run away and elope.  That didn’t happen in real life, so it couldn’t happen here.

But I wish it had.

I will still buy Geraldine Brooks’ books in hardcover. I will keep this one she signed for me. And maybe I will read it again. I’ve read Year of Wonders three or four times. Perhaps a second reading will give me the insight I lack at this moment in my life to appreciate Bethia’s and Caleb’s choices.

Anyone out there ever read a book where you’d change the ending if you could?

Tell me.

p.s. Got something really fun starting on Monday. Hope to see you then. . .

Author: Susan

This post has 5 Comments

  1. Lori Benton on October 28, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    Here Be Spoilers…..

    I finished listening to Jennifer Ehle narrate Caleb's Crossing two days ago, and the sadness and regret still lingers. I had the same hope as you did all the way through, that Bethia and Caleb would somehow end up together on the island. Not knowing this was based that closely on a real incident, I was so disappointed in the way certain characters' stories developed and ended. It makes a case for telling stories “based on” real events, then going on and changing names and crafting a more satisfying ending for them. Or perhaps I should say it makes a case for me sticking to reading such stories.

    Even so, I do like her writing, and her insights, and the way she has of gripping me by the heartstrings–until all hope of the ending I'd longed for is lost and I see the shape of the end to come. I felt this way with Year of Wonders, the only other book of hers I've read.

    So. Yeah. Still a fan. But a bruised one.

  2. Lori Benton on October 28, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Oh, to answer your question, I had this experience with a book by James Alexander Thom, an author whose work I admire and devour. It was the story of George Druillard, the half-Shawnee interpreter and hunter for the Lewis & Clark expedition. Though the man himself wasn't literate, the end of his life is well known, the details documented, and Thom reveals it in his book, Sign-Talker. I wouldn't change the book, because his death is presented in a way that brings fulfillment to the goals and motivation of the character as Thom skillfully presents him. It's as good as it can be, given the historical restrictions. I would however change Druillard's life ending if I could. Thom made him so real to me, and so admirable a man, that I've grieved for him in the months since I read his story. Now I feel the same for Caleb, if indeed he was a real person, and what Brooks presented was true to the facts.

    I'm just not sure how often I really want to experience this, with books. I'm ready for some happy endings.

  3. Anonymous on October 29, 2011 at 4:10 am

    Ditto spoiler alert IF someone is later than me in reading June Bug by Chris Fabry.

    I am typically quite impacted by characters of good writers. But this one, in quite a sneaky and surprising manner, really got under my skin. At the end I cried (sobbed really), told my husband it didn't have to end the way it did and I was so angry I'd never read another of Fabry's books again and that it was a horrible story. I really did not want June Bug's “father” to disappear from her life. It was too, too wrenching; and I'd have had them spend time together with the grandparents and make a slow transition, and not a total severing of ties.

    Perhaps if I'd known when I received the book it was based on Les Miserables I'd have been prepared for the loss. But, I got over it and thought Almost Heaven was also a powerful book. And yea! Didn't cry at that ending.

    You know, Sooz, it was very kind of you to give your readers time to disengage with the characters after The Shape of Mercy. Not only a good idea, but a kind one.

    Mary Kay

  4. Susan Meissner on October 29, 2011 at 6:30 am

    Thanks for your thoughtful insights, Lori and Mary Kay!

  5. Clair on October 29, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    My book club read Blessings by Anna Quindlen in the spring. The ending was disappointing because the girl got her baby back after abandoning it, though the baby's real caregiver should have been able to keep her.

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