Friday, 5 February 2016

The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman


There's a moment, about halfway through this book, where the narrator's new boyfriend warns her that he's okay with heavy, but he doesn't do melodrama. And I was like, "amen, brother!"  Except that that's the problem - this book is so melodramatic, so shrill, so full of absolutely inexplicable reactions that had me scratching my head in disbelief that I can't possibly recommend it. In fact, I could barely finish it.

The story is about a woman who discovers her grandfather was Jewish, that he might be part of Jewish folklore at that, and his fate is tied into that of her newborn nephew, son of her sister and her sister's extremely Orthodox Jewish husband.

The main character is just so...unlikeable. She has the most extreme reactions to EVERYTHING, and it all felt so fucking tone deaf. So much of this might have worked if Feldman had shown us all the things that the narrator perceives happening, but honestly, her reactions are so extreme and so in no way borne out by anything that happens around her that it makes no sense.

We hear her say that her brother-in-law is nasty and controlling and insulting, but we never see it, we just see her fly off the handle at small things. She thinks her sister has, apparently, betrayed her or something by living her own life, but the reaction is so angry and possessive that it goes way beyond rational, or even irrational-but-understandable. 

Here's an example. She discovers that her grandfather may have been Jewish, during the worst abuses against Jews in Russia, and had hidden that from his children and grandchildren. Her reaction, instead of any insight or understanding, or even confusion, is to jump right to "NOW I CAN'T TRUST HIM TO HAVE EVER TOLD ME THE TRUTH ABOUT ANYTHING!" Again, if it was taken down a notch out of melodrama, the shaking of trust would be powerful. In this book, it just made me want to smack the narrator.

And it just...never gets better. Even when she in theory learns a lesson by the end of the book, it doesn't translate into being a more relatable person. Everything is still shrill and melodramatic. Much of it feels like the author knows who this character is, and how she will react to every situation, but she's really not good at communicating it to her readers, and so Marjorie's reactions ring appallingly false. 

Take the emotion down a notch, stop being quite so black-and-white, show the action instead of telling us about how awful all the other characters are, and for goodness sake, just...no more melodrama. Please.

I mean, if I was Marjorie's boyfriend, I would have said that line about melodrama and then run for the hills. 

It's been a long time since I ran into a book that made me this aggravated to read, and it's a pity, because there's a really interesting nugget of a story in there. It's too bad that what we get are the screeches of those fighting over it instead.

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