Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Book Review :: Whistling in the Dark

Ugh. This book. I really had high hopes for it. It could have been so much more.

The bones of the story are good. Not great, but compelling enough to make you want to read to the last page. It centers around Sally and Troo O'Malley. Their father is dead, their mom is in the hospital, and they are left with their abusive, drunk stepfather. Oh and a murderer/child molester is on the loose. Sounds interesting, right? It could have been.

My main problem with the book is the fact that the author spends so much time reminding us that the story is set in the 1950's. Let me say that again: The story is set in the 1950's. How about a few more times? The story is set in the 1950's. The story is set in the 1950's. It gets annoying doesn't it? That's what it was like reading this book. On almost every page there was a reference to an obviously '50s era product, person, song, etc. After a while it just seemed silly, as if the author sat around with back issues of Life magazine trying to see what was popular at that time. I understand she was trying to set the scene, but most of the time it was unnecessary. For instance when Sally mentions the smell of her father's Aqua Velva, she could have just as easily referred to it as "aftershave". What ten year old girl even knows what brand of aftershave her dad wears? These types of references were on almost every page. The kids eat oleo on Wonder Bread and drink Ovaltine. Can't we just say margarine, bread, and chocolate milk? Or can't we just leave that part out altogether? Really, it doesn't add anything to the story.

Then there are all the obvious 1950's names: Dottie, Fast Suzie, Nell, Troo, Junie, Sally O'Malley. I kept waiting for Wally and The Beav to show up. Or maybe the Fonz. OH OH OH, and don't even let me forget the "Indian" girl that lives four houses down from Mary you want to know what her name is? Judy Big Head. I swear to god...Judy Big Head.

Which brings me to the stereotypes: families with a lot of kids must be Catholic, Italians are hairy, and so on. Again, I know it was the 1950's and prejudices existed that just wouldn't fly today, but it got so old after a while and added nothing to the story.

As I mentioned, the two main characters are Sally and Troo O'Malley, the two most unrealistic little girls in the history of literature. The author is horrible at writing in a child's voice. From reading this book, I would assume that the author thinks that kids speak just like adults only they say comin' instead of coming and musta instead of must have. Anyone who has been around a child knows this isn't true. You cannot make a character be a child just by giving them a poor vocabulary and improper language skills.

About three fourths of the way through the book I was able to overlook some of the more irritating parts, and I tried to just focus on the who-done-it aspect of the story. Hmmm....Who could the murderer/molester be? The author sets up the possibility of it being any number of people: the juvenile delinquents in the neighborhood, the slightly creepy brain damaged uncle, the 'light in the loafers' man visiting from California. (But no, it wasn't him. He ran off with the cross dressing gay Catholic priest. Of course there's a cross dressing gay priest! This woman left out not a single cultural stereotype.)

So which one did it? None of them! The murderer/molester ends up being a very minor character that was only mentioned briefly once or twice throughout the book. I think the author committed a heinous sin by having the killer be this completely undeveloped character.

Despite all my complaints, Whistling in the Dark isn't the worst book I've ever read. I feel like it was a really good idea for a story that ultimately ended up being boring and unimaginative. This was the authors first book though, so maybe there's hope. She definitely left herself a lot of room for improvement.


Nowheymama said...

Sorry the book wasn't great, but your review sure is amusing!

Maria Rose said...

Fast Suzie! I want a 1950s nickname. Man alive. My mom is named Sue, I think from now on she's going to be Fast Suzie (pastor's wife that she is). I am sure she'll love it, thanks for the inspiration...if nothing else came from the book.

Tammie said...

nowhey: thanks. i guess it brought out my sarcastic side.

maria rose: ha! you should totally call your mom fast suzie.

Daphne said...

I think sarcastic reviews are my favorite kind. :)

Now excuse me while I go drink some PepsiMax, listen to my iPod, watch digital TV, and mourn Michael Jackson. 'Cause it's the 2000s. Did I mention it's the 2000s? It's the 2000s.

Mari said...

I'll make sure I avoid that one! I am impressed that you stuck with it to the bitter end!

Tammie said...

daphne: now i want pepsimax. i love that stuff!

mari: honestly, about half way through the book it became sorta entertaining in a comical way. i think it happened around the time i met Judy Big Head. i literally laughed out loud at that.

Karen said...

You made me laugh out loud.

But when does the novel take place?

Tammie said...

ha ha ha....glad you enjoyed it.

sitting on the mood swing at the playground said...

Ha, I read this book and must have been in a fog because I toned out the let's have Happy Days' themed names throughout...and have no memory of Judy Big Head.

I skimmed parts of it but mostly because I was so sure that the guy from CA who visited at the time of the first murder was the killer that I kept reading. I liked that I was wrong but a bit disappointed that a blip-on-a-page character was the killer.

Your review was great--more entertaining than the book. What's next on your reading list?

Tammie said...


i skimmed a lot of it too. i dont think we missed much.

judy big head was only mentioned on one page i think so you could have easily skimmed over her.

that was bothersome wasnt it? we would have never guessed he was the killer because we knew so little about him in the first place. i feel like we were tricked.

right now im reading "Women who eat"...its essays about women and food. and im also reading one of the sookie stackhouse books. trashy vampire literature.

Betts said...

Kinda makes you wonder how someone that writes like that gets published.

Jen C said...

Loved your review...I had similiar feelings about the book, but could not atriculate them as entertainingly as you have! Your review was the first one I had read taht wasn't raving...I thought I was the only one that thought this book was a little weak. Great Review!

Tammie said...

jen: glad you liked it. ive read a lot of positive things about this book too. i just dont get it.