Monday, January 08, 2007

On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon by Kaye Gibbons

I really did not enjoy this at all. I forced myself to finish it for a few reasons: 1) It was the first book of the year and I didn't want to start out by abandoning it. 2) I bought it, so I felt some level of financial investment. Funny how that works. And 3) It was short.

Briefly, this is a fictional memoir of a Civil War era woman from the south, who marries a doctor from Boston. Her "family" includes the slave woman Clarice, who is really the central character, and the only character with any real complexity.

I find Kaye Gibbons to be a really erratic writer. Charms for the Easy Life is a wonderful book, and I also loved Sights Unseen. I have never been able to finish anything else by her. By erratic I don’t mean the quality, but rather the subject matter. Ellen Foster, a book I abandoned in horror, was so bleak and disturbing that I just couldn't read it. This book wasn't quite on that level, and I found some parts interesting, but mostly I was depressed and disgusted by the violent father, Samuel Tate, whose influence pervades the book.

I also didn't enjoy the writing style, which some reviewers describe as "poetic" but which I found overly flowery and circuitous. Gibbons is obviously making an effort to write as a late 19th century woman would write, but it didn't work for me, and instead just distracted me from the rest of the story. Sometimes, in fact, the obliqueness of the style prevented me from exactly understanding what was going on.

So, an inauspicious beginning to my reading year.
(Book 1, 2007)


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