I recently received a free copy of this book. I was so excited when I won this book because the story sounded compelling and completely interesting. But, upon actually opening the pages and starting to read, I quickly became disappointed and upset that the story wasn’t what I was expecting it to be. I had a few major issues with this novel that caused me to forgo reading the last 100 pages and skipping directly to the return home final chapter. I honestly didn’t feel like I missed that much by skipping such a large chunk of this story. But, before I get into all that, here’s a short synopsis.
This story follows main character Cora Blake on a pilgrimage she undertakes that revolves around traveling to France to visit her son’s gravestone after he was killed in battle during WWI. Cora chose to have her son’s body buried across seas and is travelling with many other mothers to visit the place he was laid to rest along with the children of the other group members. Cora must face the problems that arise and accept that not everyone has had the same experiences as her all while dealing with travelling and the new feelings stirred up by the loss of her son. This is Historical Fiction, but is indeed based on a real ordeal that gold star mothers were experiencing after the First World War. The characters are fiction but the story is real.
That being said, I will continue on a positive note for one paragraph, but one paragraph only, and probably not even the entire paragraph. So enjoy the next few positive sentences. I did not think the author’s writing was horrible. That was not one of any of the issues I had with this novel. The writing is decent and flows throughout what I read of the novel. Smith comes off as an educated woman, and writes descriptions that paint each scene nicely. Where this started to go wrong, though, is when the flowery descriptions started to eclipse the story. It hastily went from this is nice to this is way too much. The characters and the story both got lost in the heavy descriptive paragraphs.
This was the first thing that made the story boring; the second thing was that the characters were far from believable. There was not one of the gold star (war) mothers that I found fit what these mothers would actually look and/or act like. Their personalities were left at the surface and every one of the women was beautiful and thin in their old age. It is unrealistic for every mother to be beautiful. I wanted diversity, and I wanted them to be realistic, but what I got was perfect bone structures and thin waists. Beauty seemed to be a greater focus than what the story was actually about. Everything was far too romanticized.
But not just the characters are overly romanticized, this entire story is romanticized to the max. There is nothing wrong with painting a bit of a better picture than what it was, but, especially in the time after WWI, everything was not beautiful and perfect the way this novel makes it out to be. There was so much that could have and maybe should have been touched on that wasn’t because Smith didn’t want to taint the romantic atmosphere she created. I wanted more grit to this story; I wanted so much more grit. I also have the problem with romanticizing since it devalues the struggles and losses that women actually went through during this period in time. I wanted a true story, not an flowery one.
Another thing that made it hard to connect with the characters, besides them having bare minimum personalities, was the fact that the narrator was omniscient, switching sometimes from one paragraph the next (usually mid chapter with absolutely no structure to it (Smith simply changed views whenever she felt like it)). This made it hard to connect with any of the characters. Especially since this story focuses mainly on Cora’s perspective, but then randomly switches away from Cora’s perspective. Not having a clear focus on a main character and then also not giving all the characters’ perspectives equal time makes it impossible to empathize with anyone. I did not like this aspect of the novel. Even when one of the characters dies, which I found out during the final chapter since I skipped so much, it didn’t effect me in any way. I felt no need to go back and read what happened to her because I just didn’t care.
These characters were not as good as they should have been, and another thing that really bothered me about them, was the way Smith writes their accents. If you want to have characters have accents, you need to do your research on the accents you want them to have. Smith’s accents are not consistent for the characters and fluctuate from heavy to light. This is not realistic and exceptionally bothered me. If you need some examples of great accent writing, read any of the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling does some phenomenal accent writing. Smith should have done her research with her pencil before sitting down with her pen.
Coinciding with the horrible accent work, I found that Smith often loses the time period she’s writing in and inserts a bounteous amount of modern-day slang. This is an issue for me, since I often lost the type of story I was supposed to be reading. This overall was another contributing factor to make this novel so unbearable and so unbearably boring.
Finally, combining all of this together, Smith needed a bit more research on this subject before attempting to write an entire novel about it. Although Fannie Flagg, an actress who is most known for being on the panel of the game show Match Game from 1973-82 (age 70 now), wrote, “A beautifully written, meticulously researched slice of American History.” I am not compelled to believe that this was that meticulously researched. Which is sad, because I was so looking forward to this interesting story. In my opinion, this story might have been much better suited for a short story or novella, since nothing of true importance happens throughout this drug out novel. What do I always say? Tension. What does this story have nothing of? Tension. A 20, maybe even 30 page story would have been much more fitting than the superficial novel Smith creates in an attempt to bring back to life a piece of American History often forgotten.
I don’t think I would ever be coerced enough to pick up any of Smith’s other novels. This one was a boring (not tough) but long read. I couldn’t bring myself to pick up this novel for anything and when I finally did, I’d put it down in a matter of minutes to check facebook or browse tumblr. A good book would have me ignoring the technological, and regular, world.
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