The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. Oh my, Bill. I used to say I would read your grocery list if I had the chance. I’m sure it would be hilarious. You’re such a good writer – wry, funny, ironic, clever, full of new information. The Road to Little Dribbling started out that way. I enjoyed it until about half way through when it dissolved into a monotonous, repetitious diary of “what I did today.”
Stopped in suchandsuch town; parked my car; walked 20 miles including down to the seashore, then through the main street, where there was a greengrocer, two pubs, a jeweler, a coffee shop and a shoe store. Then I got in my car and drove to soandso town, where I parked far away because in-town parking was so freaking expensive; walked down High Street, where there were three pubs, a shoe store, a greengrocer, a coffee shop, a pet shop and a jeweler.
Bryson’s One Summer, America, 1927 was wonderful. At Home was very good. A Walk in the Woods, Notes from a Small Island, A Sunburned Country – all were wonderful travel memoirs. But The Road to Little Dribbling? Zzzzzzz. I finished it, just because I admire his former books, but the denouement was a snoozer. So sorry. Try me again, Bill. ★★ out of four stars.
Vinegar Girl by AnneTyler. I also expected something special from Anne Tyler. This novel was supposed to be a modern take on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Great premise. Kate is the protagonist/shrew. She is grumpy, acerbic, painfully direct, insulting and --- let’s face it . . . she’s a shrew (which I surmise is the Shakespearean term for bitch). She has no boyfriend and is considered an old maid at age 27. She works as an aide at a preschool and doesn’t much like her job. Her younger sister, Bunny (a la Bianca in the Taming of the Shrew) is 15 and surrounded by adoring young men. Their father is a research scientist, absorbed in his work and often neglectful of his daughters. Their mother is dead.
Kate does the cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing, shopping, gardening – everything around the house – plus she holds down that unrewarding job. She’s the family slave. No wonder she’s so shrewish/bitchy.
Her father’s research assistant is Pyotr Cherbakov, and father wants Kate to marry him so Pyotr can get his green card and stay in the United States to complete their joint project – something involving autoimmunity and lots of lab mice. In spite of Kate’s dislike of Pyotr, she (inexplicably!) agrees to marry him. Father is ecstatic. How the marriage succeeds (or fails) is so unbelievable and so weird, I suspended my suspension of disbelief. The characters were not provided with any motivation; Pyotr wasn’t even mildly appealing; Kate was truly a shrew; Bunny was a ditzy airhead. Come on, Anne, dazzle me with some more good novels about real people with complicated, believable relationships. ★★ out of four stars.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. This – and the next one – are the only novels I’ve read in the last 10 years that (in my view) deserve fewer than two stars. Donoghue’s Room was terrific, but oh, my, this one is a snoozer. Nothing happens. Nothing, that is until the protagonist, Lib, a nurse trained by Florence Nightengale Herself, finally takes action in the last 50 pages. I wonder how many readers got as far as the last 50 pages.
The first part of the novel is page after page after page of descriptions of Anna, a dying girl. Anna and her mother claim that Anna has been living for four months without eating. When Lib meets her, she appears plump and healthy. Lib’s task, given to her by a committee of Irish Catholic nutcases, is to discover how Anna is secretly being fed. Page after page after page of nothing. The ending is far-fetched and contrived. ★ out of four stars. Please don’t waste time reading this. Take a nap instead.
The Whole Town’s Talking by Fannie Flagg. I couldn’t even finish this snore fest. I gave up about three quarters of the way into it. It has a nice premise – the people in the town cemetery are talking to each other. They’re all from the same community and when someone new arrives, they catch up on town gossip, talk amongst themselves, marvel at the changes in the town where they all lived. But it is predictable and boring and trite.
Fannie Flagg wrote Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, and Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven and The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion – all winners. She’s usually funny, quirky and down to earth. But this The Whole Town’s Talking gets ★ out of four stars.