After I wrote about some of the amazing books I’ve read, a friend asked me if I’m done getting awful books and from now on, I’m just reading and reviewing awesome novels. I’m quite pleased with my recent ARCs, but I’m also getting plenty of misses.
These misses are no longer comically bad, sometimes self-pubbed, rarely proofread books often described as ‘genre-breaking’ and ‘indescribable’. I’ll skip mocking those, unless you start me off by handing me a beer and telling me how great it must be to review books and games…
But I’ve gotten plenty of mainstream misses. These are more like also-rans than horrible books. In every case, I actually finished the book, and thought, well, if I were on a plane and had nothing else to read, this wouldn’t be so bad, and then immediately realized what an awful standard that is.
I recognize some of the expat juxtapositions described here, particularly imagining I’d come home filled with Eastern peace and wisdom, that I’d be fluent in Chinese (not just to be able to navigate China smoothly and independently, but filled with concepts so deep I could only express them in the original Mandarin) but then actually finding myself daydreaming about grilled cheese and Cosmo. I empathize so much with Jenny, buying Ragu and all sorts of other import delicacies in a crazed expat grocery store, until she returns to her husband with her bounty, asking, like a caricature of a sitcom wife, if the 3500 rupees she’s spent is a lot of money. (Ladies! Sure love shopping! Aren’t so good with math!)
A protagonist in an exotic land with endless money and no responsibilities isn’t necessarily a bad premise, but it does make it fairly difficult to empathize with her complaints about the treacherous journey when her chauffeur takes her to the nearest coffeeshop. There’s also a depressing undercurrent of sexism in this book. Even after Jenny and her husband Jay reconcile and are passionately in love, his additions to her India Bucket List of awesome things she wants to do before returning home are about finally learning to iron his shirts and cook his breakfast properly.
I admit to coming to the novel with great love for expat memoir, so I should admit to also coming in with Olympic-level eye-rolling at heroines who describe encountering a laundry list of pregnancy symptoms and then are so totally surprised to be pregnant. This is a narrative cop-out best kept in soap operas. (I’d like to give Karma Gone Bad a pass since it’s a memoir, and being surprised that morning sickness = pregnancy is more understandable in messy real life. But then I would have to take seriously the scenes in which the rich girl encounters adorably grateful orphans and learns the True Meaning Of Life.)
I kept reading because I wanted to hear more about Indian expat life, but I can’t think of anything to say I liked, besides, maybe, recognizing the hints of the special kind of solitude that comes from being in a crowded foreign land, struggling with the exotic language. Even if those struggles were arguing with the houseboy.