Lusting Through Time: A Novel

My Name Is MemoryMy Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares

My rating: ★

The max number of renewals the library allows is two. Frankly, I think they should allow three renewals — three is a fair number, but who cares? I have a system. If I have a book I’ve renewed twice and still haven’t read, I call up: “I returned this book through the college’s drop box last week. Yes, I know it’s not due for another week, but it should have been checked in three days ago. What if it never gets checked in? I don’t want fees.” (Current library fee: $6.45. I’m not sure how it managed to not increase, as Ostrich Boys was returned five days late. They must like me, really.)

Librarians either sigh or agree, but they always override the two-renewal rule and, baby, that book is mine for an extra two or three weeks. It’s not like I can call up a second time and get a fourth renewal, so that is why My Name is Memory has been my companion since Tuesday.

And what a disappointing companion this book is. A frightening familiarity hit as I read from page to page, and I realized: it reminds me of Twilight. I don’t enjoy tossing Stephenie Meyer‘s name around every time the topic of poor writing surfaces, but her ability is among the most prominently weak that I’ve encountered in a crazy spectrum of good and bad writing. Truly, I’m surprised Lucy did not convince herself that Daniel is a vampire, but Lucy–surprisingly–has a brain. Or half a brain.

Daniel has “The Memory,” or in other words: he retains memory of each past life. In all lives, Daniel spends every waking moment thinking about or searching for Sophia (so it seems). She is the great, one true love of his life–or lives, I should say–which would not be a problem if she remembered, too. Unfortunately for Daniel, she doesn’t. Sophia either winds up with another man or no one at all, but never with Daniel. Their “love” story dates back to the year 541, but I would say it doesn’t begin until 773 when Daniel’s brother, Joaquim, introduces his wife: Sophia. Joaquim plays the antagonist–just another factor next to fate that keeps Daniel and Sophia separated until Daniel meets the present-day Sophia (who now goes by Lucy). What more is there to this story? Daniel pining for Sophia to remember him, Sophia panicking, Sophia thinking Daniel is nuttier than an Almond Joy, Sophia questioning her sanity, and Daniel tediously narrating his past lives. Snore?

I know myself and reading taste well enough to understand that chick lit is not for me. That doesn’t mean I’m always inclined to dislike a romance novel if it is indeed enjoyable. Give it a unique story to tell and, if well-written, I’ll feel pleasantly surprised. My Name is Memory is not a book I would have even thought to touch, but then someone compared it to The Time Traveler’s Wife. Until the day comes when I read Niffenegger’s book, I simply say: “Hey, I like that movie!” I then gave My Name is Memory‘s premise an acknowledgment nod, believing potential for something exceptional was living inside those pages.

That is why I decided to befriend Brashares’ newest work — a mistake on my part. Obviously, I cannot compare Brashares’ and Niffenegger’s writing styles and try to comprehend what compels people to continuously make the comparison. All I can say is that My Name is Memory has a cliché sitting on each page, whether it serves as a plot device or to express a character’s feelings, and the book is all tell (no show).

I would readily rate this at two, perhaps even three, stars if I didn’t find the writing monotonous and the backstory uneventful. The truth is it isn’t romantic. It is utterly dull — so dull that when I finally read the last word I felt like pumping my fists up in victory. I had done it! I read the book! Woo-hoo. I feel like I deserve an award for reading this, because it wasn’t easy. Brashares gives no hint that she’s a writer who is capable of providing a well-written sentence. I read reviews, and people say it’s elegantly written but I disagree. What is so elegant about “The Knee/Crotch Scene”? It’s as exciting as the book gets:

They were sitting knees to knees, pressing them together, so when he split his legs hers went right through until they were practically joined. Her knee was nearly in his crotch, and his was in hers. Her knee was bare, and his knee was deep under her dress, pressed against her underwear, and her nerves were thrumming. She had a feeling of disbelief. She was suspicious that her imagination was choreographing this out of pure desire and that it wasn’t really happening.

“Have you?” he asked. She suddenly knew, just knew, that he was soaking her in, that he was as parched as she was.

Her reached out and put his hand on the back of her neck and pulled her forward. She drew in her breath, astonished that he would put his mouth on hers. He kissed her. She lost herself in his breath and his warmth and his smell.

Am I supposed to laugh, groan, or empty my stomach? I had a difficult time viewing this as an adult novel. I’ve read YA novels with more romantic pizzazz and better descriptions. I spy a million irksome things in Brashares’ writing, and that is not including how silly or cheesy I find this excerpt.

It’s no spoiler to reveal that Daniel confronts Sophia in hopes that she remembers him — that happens early on. The man practically ambushes her in a dark, empty chemistry lab, because it’s not like that won’t scare Sophia off. When a man tells me, “You’re not Raya. You are my Sarah from many lives ago. I love you. You loved me!” I say, “Gee, what’s in your drink? I don’t think I want any.”

Sophia can’t open up immediately, but the story would never go anywhere if she didn’t remember something. That’s when Sophia sees Esme, a psychic. Goodness, can’t say didn’t I see that coming. And what kind of mystical nonsense does Esme tap into? Nothing I didn’t predict. Esme is one of several pushes Sophia needs to make her believe Daniel. In consequence, the entire set-up is an eyesore of sad anticipation and a contrived plot.

Characters, in effect, come across as blank, uninteresting, and present very little to no variety in terms of personality and development. I’m surprised. By stretching the protagonists’ love story through centuries, Brashares has several opportunities to make Sophia’s and Daniel’s connection special. Instead, the origin of Daniel’s attraction to Sophia weighs heavily on the fact that he found her beautiful the first time he saw her. Shortly after was the first time Sophia died… in a fire. That Daniel started. Guilt! Feeling responsible and sorry for causing her death plays into Daniel’s connection, but it always comes back to Sophia’s physical beauty or their “lusting.” Even when the couple are in danger of being shot at, their discussion centers on sex half the time.

“It’s not the outfit I would have picked for our reunion, but I admit it’s easy to get in and out of.” She couldn’t quite believe that they were still lusting after each other.

Me neither.

I am disappointed and fed up with these characters and their “love.” This is not a love story. Had Sophia connected to Daniel more than once or twice on a deeper level, had there been sincerity and stronger, intimate emotions that didn’t fade out after one lifetime, then perhaps it could be.

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Lola & the Boy Next Door: disgruntling my inner-romantic one page at a time.

Lola and the Boy Next DoorLola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: ★

It’s fun to write a review if you hate the movie.

Switch “movie” to “book” and the quote says it all, only I don’t exactly hate Lola and the Boy Next Door. Suffice it to say that my (repressed) inner romantic was dragged through a 338-page dullfest journey about teenage idealism of romance and true love. In other words: “boredom” is a more suitable word than “hate.” For a living definition of the ‘aromantic’ that I am, somewhere deep inside resides this uncharacteristic inner girly-girl, which is exactly how I found my nose stuffed in a book like this. Unfortunately for the half of me that pines for dramatic cheese ball novels, it was equally disappointed as my inner-critic upon reaching the end of Lola’s story.

I first read Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss. Likable book, I’ll say, that accomplishes exactly what it should for its genre, but I was not expecting Anna and her own boyfriend to play a part in Lola’s life. And really! I, as a reader, could have done without images of their post high school relationship. Anna, Lola’s favorite co-worker (naturally, of course—who would have guessed?!), is never to be seen without our magnifique St. Clair. As if the aforementioned couple’s own novel wasn’t enough, I was witness to such behavior:

Anna smiles. “We keep missing each other in the dorm. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“Likewise,” Cricket says. “I’ve heard nothing but good things. In fact, if I weren’t standing next to your boyfriend, I’d be tempted to ask you out myself.”

She blushes, and St. Clair bounds inside the box office and wrestles her into a hug. “Miiiiiiiiine!” he says.

Gross. Mental disgust manifested into physical unease as my body wrenched. There are few things on this planet that I hate more than being stuck in a room with clingy couples who feel it necessary to (consistently) express their non-cute tendencies. This passage (among others, particularly those between the ever-so inseparable Anna & St. Clair) clutched my cynic, my overbearing hag-like quirks—whatever you want to deem it—and ripped it out in full force. I could not stand it and thus often found myself snorting… scornfully, and not in a bitter way. In a way that says, “Please, stop. You are not going to die if your mouth separates from your partner’s for longer than two seconds.” But no worries—Anna and St. Clair weren’t present just to have me almost keel over from the bat held by said Super!Duo’s nauseating relationship. They were there to help guide (among others) clueless Lola in a proper direction toward “the one.” I mean, I understand dear Lo’s predicament: the super sexy (and slightly super older) but boorish asshat Max or the somewhat confusing yet sweet neighbor boy Cricket? Tough choice, Lola; I feel your agony.

Okay, in all fairness to this character and actual people alike: I am not like Lola, and I can’t find a compassionate response to such a problem that does not involve eye-rolling on my behalf. I’m sorry (kind of, but mostly sorry that I made myself read through this entire book). This is exactly why I will most likely be found—years from now—living in small apartment, my only companions being that of five cats, or perhaps I will find that a parrot will do nicely instead. I expect all chick lit lovers to dislike me now.

There are no spoilers to dangle in the eyes of prospective readers, either, because the title alone should give it away. Lola—seventeen year old Lola—and her twenty-two year old boyfriend (who is not “the boy next door,” ahem)… Well, what to say? Starting on page one, anyone with a quarter of a brain can guess that Rock God Max teeters, totters, and eventually falls out of the plot due to Lola’s affection for Cricket—the boy next door. See, I told you. The title says it all.

You can guarantee, however, that I will undoubtedly read Perkins’ next YA chick lit novel. I learn no lessons here. I only ask not to find Lola taking role in the next main character’s life—or worse, Lola and Anna. Enough said.