I haven’t had a great year of reading (until recently), but generally it felt pretty clear that it was the books not working, not me. Except for these two recent reads, which is why they’re It’s Not You, It’s Me books. In both cases, the writing and story were good, but they were missing whatever indefinable element I need to keep me invested.
No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts
Published by Ecco
Publication date: April 4th 2017
Given the title, it is no surprise that No One is Coming to Save Us, takes place under a shroud of sadness. There is not a single happy or even contented character in the novel. Which is not say there should be. In this small African American community there simply isn’t much to celebrate. Ava wants a baby, but has yet to carry one to full term. Her husband, Henry, works in a factory four days a week with no hope of fulltime. Her mother, Sylvia, is getting ready to retire from her job as a social services administrator. Her father, Don, has taken up with a woman younger than Ava. When JJ, a high school friend of Ava’s, returns and starts building a large home it seems as things might get shaken up in their community, but is it for better or worse?
Set in the small town of Pinewood, North Carolina, prosperity left at the same as all the furniture manufacturing plants and nothing has moved in to replace it. Author Stephanie Powell Watts conveys this feeling throughout No One is Coming to Save Us with characters who are working hard, but still not able to get ahead. This could have had a greater impact, but Watts uses so many narrators that the story feels jumpy and without cohesion. I was never able to get my emotional hooks into any one character and so was left uninterested in the overall story.
Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett
Published by Tin House Books
Publication date: March 7th 2017
Quirky. Odd. Two words that almost always lead me to love a book. Annie Hartnett’s Rabbit Cake, has got both in spades. Beginning with a 10-year-old girl named Elvis. Who has a mother who sleep-swims and an older sister, Lizzie, who inherited the trait and sleepwalks. Sadly, when the novel begins, her mother has drowned and the family is mired in grief. What follows is how they muddle through it.
Elvis is intrepid, determined, and smart. She believes in getting answers whether it’s about her mother’s death or anything to do with animals—a subject she’s so passionate about she starts volunteering at a local zoo. At the same time, she’s trying to keep a grip on her father and sister as their grief takes more unusual and less understandable paths. Lizzie’s sleepwalking spirals into breaking into neighbor’s homes, walking on the roof, and most often, baking, cooking, and eating prodigious quantities of food. Her father wears her mother’s lipstick and bathrobe around the house and abdicates all adult responsibilities. If it sounds like a lot for a 10-year-old, it is.
Rabbit Cake has an underlying dry sense of humor that manifests itself in all its characters and, largely, keeps the novel from going too far off the rails. But even with humor and sympathy, for how individuals process grief, a point comes when the eccentricity moves from something that engages to something that feels more observational. I’m watching the characters, but I don’t feel connected to any of them. And without a connection, it’s a short hop to finding fault. Which is, to say, a case of It’s Not You, It’s Me.
I now remember seeing and hearing about No One Is Coming to Save Us and thinking I might want to add it to my list; I guess it’s a good thing that I never got around to it – ha! I did enjoy Rabbit Cake but, I have to admit, toward the end it did kind of veer into territory that seemed a little out of range for me. I loved Elvis SO MUCH, though, that I ended up rating pretty highly, if I remember correctly.
Complete agreement on Elvis! It was Lizzie who got to the point of bugging me.
I’ve got an “it’s not you, it’s me” book right now. I’m sorry to say that it’s “Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison. According to Wikipedia, “This book won the National Books Critics Award, was chosen for Oprah Winfrey’s popular book club, and was cited by the Swedish Academy in awarding Morrison the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1998, the Radcliffe Publishing Course named it the 25th best English-language novel of the 20th century.” So why am I having SUCH a hard time finishing it?
Wow! I’ve not read it. What about it slows you down? Is it just not compelling? I’ve got to believe the writing is gorgeous but if the story is slow it would be a problem for me. You have to be in the mood for slow!
Yes, it just didn’t progress until the last 50 pages or so. The writing was evocative, but the characters just never caught on with me. But I finished and moved on to a great nonfiction book: The Book of Joy. I’m joyful just reading it!
Isn’t it wonderful?! I am not exaggerating to say it has kept me sane this year. Well, as sane as anyone can be these days.
Of course both of these are on my list. I think I even have Rabbit Cake in ebook format. I might still give that one a go someday since I have it, but thanks for the insight and input. I think I’ll skip No One despite really liking the cover. 🙂
Sarah's Book Shelves says
I couldn’t get into No One is Coming to Save Us either….gave up early on. However, I did love Rabbit Cake 🙂
I made it through, but was never really sure about the point.