Okay, so my Summer Reading Challenge did not turn out as successful as I hoped, but I’m not going to dwell on that now, because I want to talk about Early Warning, the novel I just finished.
I was excited to read this, because Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres was, from what I remember, enjoyable. Early Warning, was different. Apparently, it’s the second book in a trilogy, which I was unaware of for maybe the first couple of chapters. When I began getting extremely confused at the sudden character “introductions,” and believe me, there are many, I realized they were not introductions, and as I looked back on the family tree Jane Smiley includes in the front of the book, I noticed the dedication page for the first time, which dedicates “This trilogy” to the respective people. Many of the reviews I read after that noted one did not need to read the first installments of this apparent three-part series to get through Early Warning, but in order to do it pleasurably (I predict) it sure would help. So, I will be reading the first and then then the third…eventually.
Now, this novel frustrates me. Confuses me. Enlightens me. Makes me cry. Makes me laugh. Makes me think. But mostly frustrates. I like that each chapter symbolizes one year; I traveled from 1953 to 1986. However, since I was not alive during this time frame, and because I know very little about what happened in America and the world during this time, the references to social and cultural events were wasted on me; and I’d like to take a moment to thank Google for helping me in this respect.
Like I mentioned before, there are a lot of characters in this (these?) story(ies). This turned me off a bit, because I like novels with less than five main characters and a handful of “extras” who can be important or unimportant to the storyline(s). I generally get easily distracted and forgetful, so the less a novel jumps around to different times and places, the better. Or, if there is jumping around, I like the transitions to be slow rather than sudden; ease rather than shove. In Early Warning, I continuously had to refer to the family tree diagram* to remember who was who, and some of the characters aren’t even in the diagram. There was governmental corruption, college experiences, movement from one side of the country to the other, affairs, illness, inheritance, birth, death. In other words, a lot to keep track of.
As frustrating as this novel is to me, I am absolutely amazed by it. Eloquently yet simply written; there were maybe 25 or so words that tripped me up, but I am glad they are part of my vocabulary now. The actual formation of sentences and paragraphs may have really been the driver of my reading progress; If the writing had been too complex it would have made the thick content and story development just unbearable to weed through. And, when a section of the novel challenged me with its seemingly tedious and irrelevant path, there it was: a nugget of reflection, “Ah-Haaa!” and meaning. The very ending lines faltered, but just a few lines before I was in tears because it was made known that one of the characters had been reading Anna Karenina** and was going through the same debates and thoughts about life that I am at the present. Astounding.
So, while I recover from the task that was reading this novel, I will be getting my hands on the first and then the third novels in this trilogy, because I obviously can’t just read one and expect to be satisfied, no matter how I feel about it.***
I’m onto the next book, which I haven’t chosen yet. I need to give my mind a little break; it’s just reeling. I suppose I’ll finish off the summer with the next pages of Tolstoy…
*I am obsessed with these kinds of diagrams. Obsessed. In regards to the percentage of my interest in this novel, maybe 60% of it was geared towards this diagram.
**If you have been following my Summer Reading Challenge posts, you’ll know that I have been reading Anna Karenina for [what seems like] decades.
***I am still working through how I definitely feel about it.