Friday, September 28, 2007

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

Book: Love Walked In
Author: Marisa de los Santos
Like or Don't Like: Like

I think I was with Nicola when she bought this. I distinctly remember the thought coming into my head, "That sounds like a book I would love but the title is kind of embarrassing." This from the girl who snort-laughed out loud in Jiffy-Lube over a book titled Knocked Out by my Nunga-Nungas (Like!). I waited for her assessment before getting it. The girl has got taste. When I next saw her she gave the big thumbs up. Hold on. I don't think Nicola does thumbs up. Well, she gave a verbal thumbs up by saying it was one of the best books she's read all year. So I picked it up.

Hooray for Nicola! She has never failed me.

Since this is my first book review you should know something about me. I really care a lot about writing. Yikes, that makes me sound like I sit around all day in floral print kaftans crafting prose. No, a woman like that is passionate about writing. What I mean is that the quality of the writing makes a big difference in how I view a book. I have this annoying habit of rolling my eyes at authors. Sometimes even shutting the book and sighing loudly while rolling my eyes. I will even do this to myself for the things I've written. I'm not very tactful. If the writing is bad and the story is bad then forget it, I'm miserable. Sometimes the writing is mediocre but the story is good. This I can handle. I just have to pray that all the excessive eye-rolling doesn't make my vision any worse. Sometimes you get lucky and come across a book that is a good story beautifully written (ex: Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. In my opinion a perfectly written book.) and it makes you want to hug people at the end of it. (Fact: If there isn't a person to hug at the end of one of those books I tend to just hug the book. Yeah, I know, I'm pretty precious.)

Having said all that I'll start with the problems, because they were glaring in the beginning and I didn't think that I would make it passed them. There were two main flaws: First, could we please send a memo to all creative writing professors about warning their students against alternating voices. It drives me nutty. Unless expertly done (quick, someone give me a good example of a book that has achieved this. I can't think of any.) it really cuts into the flow of the story. This book not only alternated chapters between the two main characters, it also switched from 1st to 3rd person. Gag! It obliterated the flow. It took me about 100 pages before I could forgive her and get over it. I could see why she did it. The 1st person voice was very distinctive and it was obvious that she didn't want to give it up. But she also couldn't tell the other character's story with it. She tried to have it both ways but it didn't really work.

Second, the author came through too much in her characters. I didn't need her bio to confirm that de los Santos was a fan of vintage clothes, classic movies and L.M. Montgomery (although it did, in the very first paragraph no less.) She put it all out in her characters. It would be like me writing about a short Mormon girl who loved ice cream and books and America's Next Top Model and Old Fat Vegas Elvis and had 7 brothers and sisters and grew up in Chino, and writing about these things so specifically and with so much love and knowledge that you knew it was me, even if you've never met me. I'm not saying it's wrong to love all these things she put in (the next time you're at my place ask to see my L.M. Montgomery collection.) or even to put a few of them in but it's important for an author to hide herself a little. It's fiction not an autobiography.

The rest is just nit-picking that most people probably won't mind but made me want to call her editor for a page by page explaination. Things like the way one of the character's would describe everything using the same word like "the devilish devil he was" or "she was adorable in a very adorable way." (These are not quotes. I don't have the book in front of me so I'm just making up examples, but they're pretty true to form.) Or the excessive use of names instead of pronouns, like "Clare looked at Cornelia. Clare thought she was lovely." or the lack of proper names, as in pages and pages of "Clare's father" instead of "Martin". And while we're on the subject of names, can we please talk about naming characters? Clare and Martin were it for normal names. Everyone else was Cornelia, Linny, B, Hayes, Vivianna, Cam. Ugh. I'm not ashamed to admit that I may have a little reader OCD. It hurts me when people do this.

Wait did I say I liked this book? Oh yeah, I did. Which is saying something because I've tossed a lot of books that had the flaws I've just listed and didn't think twice about it.

But I really liked it. Why? Because golly, this book was sweet. But not sweet in the gives you a sugar headache kind of way. Sweet like kids are sweet. The ones who don't bring guns to school (sometimes I really miss those GATE kids.) It was kind of a snuggly book. I read most of it in bed under my covers. But it wasn't all sweet. There was some sadness in it too. Some of the best written parts were the sad parts. The characters were solid and likable. And the story kept me going. It really did. Not a lot of twists but it kept moving forward with no superfluous scenes. I appreciate a nicely trimmed story, especially when bowls are being described as very bowl like in a bowly sort of way.