Saturday, January 24, 2009

At the Breakers by Mary Ann Taylor-Hall

At the Breakers by Mary Ann Taylor-Hall appealed to me because the protagonist is a single mother, leaving a difficult relationship, seeking refuge in her new job at renovating a hotel, while finally giving herself to explore her dreams of being a writer. For all intents and purposes, I should have loved Jo Sinclair and I kept hoping I would. When in the first chapter she doesn't call the police as she should . . . nor in the second .. . or third, I was prepared to throw the book across the room. Perhaps I should have but the truth this is not a badly written book. If you like Lifetime movies or preferred the movie version of Under the Tuscan Sun to the memoir then you'll probably like this book. Woman leaves a bad situation and tries to salvage her life and the lives of her children while also trying to find herself. Of course there is a romantic interest and another possible one to complicate the inevitable one. It is all so predictable that I knew how it would end by the end of the third chapter. The writing is adequate but there are flaws that keep this from being a well written book. Too predictable and peopled with characters who stay on the page rather than leaping from them and into the reader's heart, this is a quickly read and forgotten novel. But if you don't like or feel a great deal of sympathy for Jo Sinclair by the end of the first few chapters you won't feel any by the end of the book. I know I didn't.
I was frustrated, while reading the novel, that obvious errors were not caught. Disneyworld is in Florida, not California. And when I read that Jo gave Victor a pocket watch I was utterly baffled. Not once had this pocket watch been mentioned prior to its magical appearance and yet she managed to not only get his pocket watch from his possession to have it repaired but she did so while living in a different state! Not once does Taylor-Hall hint at this gift prior to its manifestation, let share with the reader that Jo has a gift for Victor in mind. She just seems to drop the watch onto the page and presume that the reader will take the whole back story on faith, I suppose. I'm still trying to figure out how she managed to get the watch from him without his noticing. Another example of almost the same thing occurs when Erica, her middle daughter, arrives for Christmas with no warning. Jo, not expecting Erica's visit, has no gifts for the girl. She sees a painting on the wall and the reader gets to hear all about how Jo found and bought the painting, etc. Naturally she wraps this painting up and gives it to Erica. A better way to present the painting to the reader would have been to have Jo hang it up as soon as her room was painted and ready for her to move into, have the back story shared in that earlier chapter. Then, when Jo makes the decision to give the painting to her daughter, the reader would have a better appreciation of it's intimacy and importance. As it is, the painting is thrown on the wall just in time for Jo to give it to her daughter. It's rather like Chekhov's mandate that if there's a knife on the wall in the first act it had better be used by the third--only in reverse where a knife appears by the third act where no knife was before. These details, along with the predictability and poorly realized characters kept this novel from being anything more than adequate. It's a shame. I think the author has the ability to write better but I don't think I have the patience to read anything else she's read to ascertain if my intuition is correct or not.

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