Why do I include personal information in book reviews?
I’ve thought about this question quite a bit. I do it for innumerable reasons and for reasons I can’t always explain. I do it to celebrate and remember when something good happens. I do it to try and find the humor in a shitty day at work. I do it because I want to remember how I perceived a book and why. I do it because I’m not sure that anyone, myself included, can ever objectively review a book – so I share the reasons* why I cannot be an unbiased reviewer and why a particular issue resonated with me. But then, as always happens in my little mock-contemplative mind, I ask myself why (again). Because ultimately, I’m embarrassed to share when something good happens, it feels a bit too ostentatious. I’m embarrassed to share when something bad happens; it feels too much like whining. Furthermore, I’m embarrassed to admit I’m embarrassed because there are so many bigger problems to worry about than the way anyone perceives me. And then I wonder how I’ve possibly made it to though most of my twenties without imploding…(no worries, I still have time). To quote the always wise Caitlin Moran:
Always remember that, nine times out of ten, you probably aren’t having a full-on nervous breakdown – you just need a cup of tea and a biscuit. You’d be amazed how easily and repeatedly you can confuse the two.
In the effort to connect my somewhat maudlin introduction to my current review, I’d like to point out that I’ve never had a breakdown, but that Paul Krovik has. In Patrick Flanery’s engaging new novel Fallen Land, Paul Krovik is driven insane by his own failure and the corruption of his personal value system. His dream? To build a luxury, neo-Victorian subdivision. Only the economy tanks, thus derailing the financial success of the development, bad financial decisions are made, his family is torn apart, and paranoia ensues. New residents Julia and Nathaniel arrive with their young son Copley, buying Krovik’s original dream house. To them, this suburb represents all they were trying to escape in Boston. It’s a fresh start, a chance at a better life, but the bitterness runs deep – literally and figuratively. As the characters embark on what can only be a collision course, this dark tale investigates the state of the American psyche.
Although Fallen Land is a psychological novel, it is also a sociological meditation. It deals as heavily with the mental state of its characters as it does with issues plaguing America post-9/11. From unstable Krovik to young, troubled Copley, the characters are well-drawn and nuanced. Lurking underneath the plot’s surface is the questioning of the American dream, thoughts on immigration and racism, how personal freedoms are sacrificed in the name of security, prescription drug reliance, the ways our past can haunt us, and the effects of suburban sprawl. It is very much a novel of ‘big ideas’ – a simulacrum of the failings of American society. This makes the story as thought provoking as it is exhausting.
The novel’s atmosphere is a mix of dystopian and gothic, the characters suffering from a restless, unknowable fear. Emphasizing this is Nathaniel’s company, a forbidding and frightening security company that exacts a heavy toll on its employees simply by its expectations, and Copley’s recurring ‘dreams’. Ultimately it’s a dark, disturbing tale that is equal parts literary fiction and psychological thriller (perhaps William Faulkner meets Stephen King in Huxley’s Brave New World?). It eerily demonstrates the thin, malleable line between reason and madness and the illogical labyrinth of the American dream. It encourages the reader to ask: If someone wants you to be afraid, what can they gain by your fear? And furthermore, why is it so hard to really see what we fear? Read it. It’s the most thought provoking** novel I’ve read in a long time. 4/5***. For fun: The Guardian loved it, the New York Journal of Books hated it.
*So what are some of the revealing/embarrassing/inane things I’ve shared? (It’s no wonder why I’m so grateful for all of you, you put up with a lot.) 😉
- My fear of approaching and “selling” people
- My adoption
- My ability to sing REM’s The End of the World in its entirety (qualifies me for superhero status)
- My love for Bob Dylan (and Ben Harper, Ani DiFranco, Van Morrison, etc.)
- Tasteless jokes about my father’s death
- My eternal awkwardness (if someone gives you a compliment, just say thanks (as if I’d ever follow my own advice)).
- I hinted at my handywoman skills
- Then confirmed them
- Celebrated ‘stitch removal day’ (a Sabrina reference)
- And shared that time I buried my dead pet mouse in the middle of nowhere Kansas (while listening to Elton John’s Tiny Dancer).
- I pondered the influence my genetics have on my personal preferences (one Irish parent and one Greek parent, just like Jeffrey Eugenides)
- In the past year you’ve vacationed with me to Sweden, Oregon/Washington, Canada, and Telluride, Colorado (I omitted my Ireland trip, you’re welcome). My Vermont vacation is forthcoming.
**The novel is one of the most wholly depressing reading experiences I’ve had in a long, long time.
***I received this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.