YOU LOST ME THERE by Rosecrans Baldwin

Book Quote:

“Thoughts popped up while I shut down my computer: Why that particular memory? Why that event and those feelings, and why at that precise moment?

Questions like those were our lab’s bread and butter. В They stayed with me on my drive to Regina’s house, at least halfway there, until other ideas took hold.”

Book Review:

Review by Betsey Van Horn (AUG 12, 2010)

In the isolated Soborg Institute off the coast of Maine, obsessive geneticist Victor Aaron works tirelessly to make a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research with his capable, motley crew of colleagues. Since his wife, Sara, died several years ago, he has walled himself off emotionally from relationships, frustrating his twenty-five year-old girlfriend, Regina, a research fellow and budding poet. He is fifty-eight and suffering from impotence. She is a potent, burlesque-loving young woman that dances naked for him on their routine weekly rendezvous. They keep a regular regimen of Fridays and a secret email exchange at work.

Victor’s links to his dead wife include a series of index cards that she left behind, detailing the various vectors of their thirty-odd year marriage, and her octogenarian Aunt Betsy, the bellicose island doyenne. He pencils in a regular Friday supper with Aunt Betsy following his Friday afternoon failures with Regina. He compartmentalizes his relationships and quarantines his heart, wallowing in melancholy over his loss. The troubled arc of his marriage left a wake of unsettled issues that Victor is trying to stitch together from their memories. Sara’s index cards tell a story that threatens to unhinge him completely.

The novel contains some elaborate observations on life, particularly memories.

“Some theories said the most accurate memory was one that’s never recalled. The more the mind retells a story, the more that story hardens into a basic shape, where by remembering one detail we push ten others below the surface and construct the memory touch by touch. A sculpture between the neurons that looks like its model, just not completely.”

As a philosophical writer of tart reflections, Baldwin has a pungent flair. However, the story was often fuzzy and unfocused, as it lurched from character to character, from scene to scene. Likewise, this eccentric cast of oddballs was self-consciously overplayed. They were a little too quirky and frenzied, as if the author was trying to fill a weak story with ambient noise. The narrative felt boggy and bleary, and I was routinely impatient to return to the examination of Victor and Sara’s marriage. The book needs some crisp editing; the story tends to become either repetitive and muddy or windy and discursive. Also, a dark and defining event in Victor’s past was too affectedly reminiscent of a scene out of Pump up the Volume.

The narrative thrust declines when Aunt Betsy’s son, Joel, a background character during most of the story, is corralled to front and center during the final stretch of the novel. Once the climax is reached–an over-the-top but ultimately enervating experience–the story continues tonelessly with Joel and his transgressions. He was the least engaging character of all, presented wearily as the stock alcoholic. The story’s indulgence into Joel became tedious to read, and I often lost interest.

Baldwin’s freshman effort does show promising talent, but it suffers from the flaws of many debut novels. The jacket cover describes this book as “dazzling.” Honestly, dazzling it is not. It lacks focus and rhythm and suffers from structural jam and story caulking. But I admire Baldwin’s offbeat wisdom and and I suspect he will refine his craft with time.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 31 readers
PUBLISHER: Riverhead Hardcover (August 12, 2010)
REVIEWER: Betsey Van Horn
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Rosecrans Baldwin
EXTRAS: BookPage interview with Rosecrans Baldwin
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Bibliography:


August 12, 2010 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: ,  В· Posted in: Contemporary, Debut Novel, NE & New York

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