Friday, April 9, 2010

Book Review:: On Beauty

Did you ever run into someone you once knew, someone you sort of purposely lost touch with? You didn't really like this person. You didn't have a lot of respect for this person, maybe thinking they were phony or a snob. Maybe you thought that all of their friends and family were pretentious assholes and you just didn't feel comfortable around them. Upon seeing this person you don't want to appear rude so you ask them how they've been, hoping that they'll just answer with the customary, "Oh, fine." But instead they proceed to tell you every single detail about their life over the past year. Every mistake and misstep. Every conversation, even the most banal and pointless. Every affair and sexual encounter. Every win. Every loss. Every detail about the lives of their wife and three children, all of whom also really bug you. You're sort of intrigued, but yet you also just want it all to end soon.

That's what it was like to read this book.

On Beauty centers around the Belsey family. Howard Belsey, the patriarch, is a professor at a small prestigious college outside Boston. Kiki Belsey is Howard's wife and she's always felt a bit out of place amongst Howard's intellectual friends and co-workers. This out of place feeling is exacerbated when she discovers that Howard has been having an affair with one of their good friends. After spending the last 30 years as wife and mother, Kiki sees her little world come crashing down around her and begins to wonder what her life is really all about. They have three almost grown children, Jerome, Zora, and Levi.

Here's the deal............. I had planned on writing a big long thing about this book because a lot happens and there is a lot I had wanted to say, but I'm tired. All day long I've been loading boxes and furniture into the POD and getting the place ready for tomorrows Open House/Mega Garage Sale (Keep your fingers crossed that I don't kill anyone.) So here's the abbreviated version:

This book was okay. Not great, but good enough to make me want to read all 450 pages. All the characters bugged me because I felt as if they were all very obsessed with how things appear or seem, rather than how they actually are. Because of this personality flaw, they were constantly doing things that defied all common sense or decency. A few times this made for good juicy reading. Other times it was just cringe inducing. For instance, when Howard has gross, drunken, sex with Victoria, his son's ex-fiancee and the first girl to seriously break his heart, you know it's just not going to end well for anyone.

The book's dialogue was very forced and contrived but the story kept that juicy/cringe inducing pace up until the very end and although I was irritated and bored with it at times, I mostly liked it.

That being said, I want to take a moment or two to say something about the author: She annoys the living piss out of me. She's let me down one too many times.

Ten years ago, I tried to read her first book, White Teeth, and was immediately turned off by it. I can't remember a lot about the book now, but I do know that one of the main characters was one of Jehovah's Witnesses and that particular character was portrayed inaccurately. As you all know, I have no fondness for the religion I was raised in, but I hate it when people can't get their facts straight. I really wish that I still had that book in my possession so that I could quote directly from it, but sadly it's long gone.

Fortunately, there is and their wonderful reviewers, which is where I found this quote from A Customer: ".....The author also used half facts, and down right untruths about certain things pivotal to the story (i.e. the Jehovah's Witnesses religion, multicultural London life) to blatantly patronise and mislead the reader. I am not a Jehovah's Witness, but I know for a fact, that Clara would not have been sent to a Catholic school, none of their members would wear a cross.....and they don't sing secular hymns and they are not your stereotypical Pentecostal churchgoers, in fact a Witness wouldn't use the word church..."


Now I know if we were in a court of law Zadie Smith's past transgressions would be inadmissible in this case, but I feel that if she tried to deceive me once, she'd probably try to do it again. The whole time I was reading On Beauty, I kept wondering if I should be fact checking the story. So, I don't trust her and I feel as if her literary voice is inauthentic.

Zadie Smith is a very famous, critically acclaimed author. But despite all her accolades, I can't shake the feeling that she's just a little girl playing make believe and trying to get the whole world to play along. Personally, I've decided that I'm not going to play along anymore. There are a lot of authors out there who are willing to play by the rules and there are plenty of books in the library.


Lia said...

And good luck with the open house/ garage sale!

Lia said...

My husband loves Zadie Smith. He's read several of her books. I tried reading one of them, White Teeth, maybe. I don't remember what it was that I didn't like about it. Too long? Too wordy? I don't know.

I can't say, however, that I really give a shit if an author's facts are always correct. I suppose I generally assume that the background facts in a novel are realistic and researched. I don't think I've ever really considered the possibility of there being untruths in the books that I've read, but, again, I don't think I'd take it offensively. I just like a good story. Realistic or not.

I do love her name, though.

Daphne said...

rah rah! (girl, you ought to look into community college when you move. smarty pants reviewer of unworthy book!)

someone gave me this book and i just couldn't make myself read it. glad you saved me the trouble!

good luck at the sale!

Not Hannah said...

I got into this reading rut a few years back where I kept finding books about women who were entering into middle age and their husbands cheated or turned up gay (occasionally they died, but it was always before some shocking secret came out.) And the kids were assholes and there was so much about how everybody FELT and I got so sick of those books that if I even saw the word "berg," my gag reflex kicked in. This book sounds like one of those books. Tedious and about characters I just don't know, but don't find interesting enough to investigate.

Tammie said...

lia: it's funny because up until I read White Teeth I never gave much thought to the facts in a book. i just always trusted the author. im totally different now though. if im reading a novel and the character is into, say hydroponic gardening, i check the authors acknowledgements and they sure as hell better have thanked "so and so" for sharing their extensive knowledge about hydroponic gardening.

daphne: thank you! and yeah, don't waste your time.

not hannah: you summed it up perfectly.

Alisha said...

i love your book reviews :-) hard to believe that there are so many terrible books out there written by people who don't research, write poorly, and have butt load of typos. though they annoy, they give me hope that i too can be a writer someday :p

good luck with the garage sale/open house!

CT said...

I really hate it when authors who show a bit of talent in storywritting are just plain LAZY. When they don't double check the facts it is really upseting because most people believe everything that is printed. Carlos Cuauhtemoc Sanchez, Dan Brown and several others, they just seem to think facts are just a minor detail. I mean, it's a novel, but if they don't want to give it a true base, please omit references to real things, or better yet, why don't they write a fantasy novel? Or a sci-fi one?

Have courage and carry on! Lol! Wish you best of luck with the Open House/ Garage Sale!

How's your crocheting going on?

Theresa said...

Well at least now I know not to pick this one up. LOL I hate when a book is like that.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Thank you dear reader for saving me the time of reading anything but this woman. Great points.

I just found out my hairdresser is a Jehovah's Witness. After all you said I found myself wanting to ask her things. I asked her 1 questions and she got very defensive and she was cutting my hair so I dropped it. I don't want to be bald.

Best of Luck on the garage sale! I hope you make a ton of money and get rid of all the stuff you want gone.
If I see on the news that a person has been hurt at a garage sale in Florida I'll know someon pissed you off! :-)

~ The Jolly Bee ~ said...

Okay....We'll pass on this one.

Now, are your RICH from the monster garage sale? I hope you made a small fortune. I keep telling myself that I must have a sale just to purge junk around here, but I can't summon up enough energy to get my act together.