Thursday, October 07, 2010

A book that misses it's promise

The review at Amazon promises:

"A Change in Altitude illuminates the inner landscape of a couple, the irrevocable impact of tragedy, and the elusive nature of forgiveness. With stunning language and striking emotional intensity, Anita Shreve transports us to the exotic panoramas of Africa and into the core of our most intimate relationships. "

Sadly, this book offers no "illumination" of anyone's "inner landscape," but offers a pair of cardboard one-dimensional characters who seem to not even know each other, in spite of being married. The husband is stunningly lacking in tact, the wife neurotic and the "exotic panoramas of Africa" are rendered in terms so ho-hum I had to remind myself it was the same continent I'd lived on for two years. I WAS interested just enough to keep listening and finish the audio version of this book in spite of no real "shock" at the supposedly shocking event, no real emotion at any point in this book. It has the feel of someone having studied every guidebook and taken special note of the folklore references. The creepy isn't creepy, the nice is blah and the exciting isn't much of anything.

This book had real promise. The premise and setting should have provided a far more interesting story. Other than an off-hand mention of the "Inaugural address" in which we are reminded that Jimmy Carter just became president, there is little to remind us that this book is not set in the present day. The descriptions of business as usual in Kenya are stereotypical--loyal servants, menacing soldiers, corrupt bureaucrats, the iron-fisted control of a quasi-dictatorship. The characters lack any definition. The two main characters needed a lecture to just GROW UP! The expatriates are stereotypes and as cardboard as a box, the Africans are stereotypes but we are meant to see them as heart-breakingly earnest. There is never a "real" character to believe in and see the story through.

This seems to be a novel published on the reputation of the author and not on the merits of the writing, plot or characterization.

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