My rating: Tough call. Loved the lead-in; increasingly despised the last half. It declined from an 7-ish sort of thing in the first 100 pages to maybe a 2 or thereabouts, with the nadir being the screamingly predictable lesbian kiss scene. So averaging the two together, I offer you a rather generous 4.5/10.
Another Century of Books novel, chosen because I’d not yet read an Ann Patchett title and I keep seeing them everywhere and I needed to find some 1990s candidates.
Caution: I may not be able to avoid including a spoiler or two down below.
Well now. I’m all conflicted about this one. It started off quite brilliantly – so much so that I stayed up into the wee hours last night because I couldn’t put it down. I forced myself to leave our heroine just as she was heading from sunny L.A. to wintry Nebraska, and when I picked it up again a few hours later, everything had changed. On multiple fronts.
Using the handy “Life’s too short” cop-out, I’m going to dodge discussing this one in too much depth. Because after a quick internet review search, I realize I’m apparently the only person who found this one less than fabulous. I’m going to refer you instead to one of many glowing reviews, this one from Publishers Weekly of October, 1997.
An excerpt here:
… Sabine had been assistant to L.A. magician Parsifal for 22 years when they finally married. She knew he was homosexual; both had mourned the death of his gentle Vietnamese lover, Phan. What she didn’t know until Parsifal’s sudden death only a short time later was that Parsifal’s real name was Guy Fetters, that had he lied when he claimed to have no living relatives and that he has a mother and two sisters in Alliance, Nebraska. When these four women meet each other, their combined love for Parsifal helps Sabine to accept the shocking events in Parsifal’s life that motivated him to wipe out his past. In finding herself part of his family, she discovers her own desires, responsibilities and potential, and maybe her true sexual nature…
The initial depiction of Sabine’s grief at the loss of her partner Parsifal was poignant and believable; the details Ann Patchett emphasized were heart-rendingly real. The sudden insertion of unsuspected relations moved things up a notch, and I was truly curious as to where the author was planning to take us all. The possibilities seemed intriguing. I even bought into the magical-realism dream sequences where Sabine makes contact with Phan in the ever-shifting afterworld; it seemed like these were going to go somewhere as well.
But all of the interesting leads fizzled out, leaving us with a common old relationship drama once Sabine left exotic L.A. and forayed forth into the depths of Middle America in the 1990s, where Wal-Mart is the only place to shop in town, and they don’t seem to carry Perrier, and where all the folks are pasty white in ethnic monotone.
A major sticking point that really soured the second part of the book for me was the over-simplified and patronizing depiction of the Nebraskans. Sabine’s new in-laws are completely awed by her sophistication and readily bow down to her California cool; she in turn is completely thrown out of kilter at their drab lives of blue-collar jobs, modest bungalows, and pitiful acceptance of their wife-beating redneck spouses.
But it all comes out sweet and life-affirming in the end, because luckily Sabine has plenty of dollars from her inheritance of software genius Phan’s legacy through her late husband Parsifal/Guy Fetters, so she can scoop everyone away from their drab Nebraska lives to sunny L.A. At least that is what I gathered at the end, though the details were pretty fuzzy at that point, what with the burgeoning (?) relationship between Sabine and Parsifal/Guy’s sister Kitty.
Moving on, I am. I suspect this writer can do better, for she has all the technical tools in her toolbox and her writing ability is undoubtedly well developed.
Am I being too mean? Should I give Ann Patchett another go? Or are the rest of her tales of a muchness to this one?