Much like the political noise that is sweeping our country right now there is a topic in the bookish world that tends to split itself into party lines. For some it is something they are proud of and shout from the rooftops. For others it is a personal failure and something they’d rather not talk about. I am referring, of course, to the decision not to finish a book or as many of us know it—the DNF. For me, this is a relatively new acronym because I fell into the camp of readers who believed that if someone worked hard writing something then I owed it to them to finish it, even if I didn’t love it. Since I’ve started blogging my mindset has changed. Professionally, I am fortunate enough to receive enough books from publishers that I don’t have time to finish those that don’t work for me. Personally, it’s similar but more succinct: Life is too short.
Why this topic and why now? Because it is so much on my mind due to the schizophrenic nature of my 2016 reading so far. I have fallen in love with or been caught up by several new books, but have found even more that left me tepid and in some cases, angry. Without getting all existential on it, this is becoming a problem. There is the whole pain and reward theory: if you touch a flame and get burned you’ll stop touching flames (unless you’re my little brother and then you’ll continue to play with fire until Mom tells Dad and you get grounded. And I get your dessert.) But I digress…
I’m not going to stop reading, but these bad apples have made me dig in my heels to the point I am DNFing more books than I used to. And that means I have less to write about because I want to write about books I love and want others to love. And that makes me angry. So, today, I’m leaving you with some books that I could not finish and my reasons why.
Unspeakable Things Published by Knopf
Publication date: January 26th 2016
Much has been made of the “unspeakable things” in this novel and yes, there is a doctor who abuses not only children but their mothers and all remain silent. Beyond that very clear story line, the rest of Unspeakable Things is simply too muddled to keep my attention. Musicians who believe their instruments to be alive and hold them more dear than they do their wives? A wife driven insane because? Spivack takes obliqueness to new levels. I don’t need graphic depictions of horror, not at all, but I need to understand what an author is trying to say through their words and this is far too difficult in Unspeakable Things. Instead, things move at a sludge-y pace so that by 3/4 I had lost interest in whatever was being conveyed.
The Fugitives Published by Simon & Schuster
Publication date: February 9th 2016
There is a whole lot of story going on in The Fugitives and while the author does a good job approximating a noirish hard-boiled conversational tone it was not enough for me to grab onto. There is a Native American casino, mob activity, a reporter, and a writer looking to get away from it all so he can finish his book.
Wreck and Order Published by Hogarth
Publication date: February 9th 2016
Remember how I mentioned earlier books that made me angry? This is it, folks. So much so that I’ll have more to say about it in the near future. For now, this was a novel I dropped after 50 pages. Not only did I not care about the protagonist I was furious that I’d given her even that much of my time.
The Restaurant Critic's Wife
Everything about this novel was meant to appeal to me—food, making a living as a reviewer, husband/wife dynamics, contemporary life. And initially it did, but by the halfway mark the character of the husband had so curdled my interest that I couldn’t keep reading. He was too unrealistic and his belittling of his wife and control over her life didn’t work for me. It may have been a right book/wrong time situation but I’ve not gone back.