Monday, December 18, 2006

Book Report: Anita Diamant/The Last Days of Dogtown

I really loved The Red Tent. Of course I was a foolish 17-year-old when I read it so my remembered opinion means nothing at all but I was very moved by that book and I cried when it was over (partially because the ending struck me as melancholy, but also just because it was over. And also a little bit because I like to cry about books).

I didn't realize Anita Diamant had a new book but my dad pulled this off the shelf at Barnes & Noble one night over that ill-fated hair-yanking Thanksgiving holiday weekend (and yes, he did buy me a cappuccino...for those still following the story). We had asked the lady at the desk to recommend a good book for me and she made about ten recommendations and I had read all ten. The "brand new" books she tried I had read before they were even published. She decided to go for older titles, hoping that was my weakness, and the last title she recommended was The Red Tent. I told her I had loved that one and my dad went off in search of other titles by that writer while I pondered glumly the fact that I'm an incredibly main-stream reader with a taste for corn-fed white commercial bestsellers. This seems incredibly sad and humiliating and hypocritical for a wannabe protobohemian like myself and at the same time like a skill I should be able to parley into at least one hundred thousand dollars a year. Hmm. Musetta and even Mimi bellied up for the cash cow so why shouldn't I? Being only a protobohemian and all.

So anyway my father brought me The Last Days of Dogtown, and the cover was very nicely laid out and had a nice glossy inset, and I flipped to the acknowledgments and saw that Amanda "Binky" Urban is Ms. Diamant's agent, and I'm friends with Binky's assistant, so it seemed like I had to buy the book. But also because of my history with Anita and how much I had loved her first book.

And this one was all right. Simple and sad, I guess. Lots of desolate people living mediocre and marginal lives and denying themselves the things they want most for reasons they don't really understand. I'm always devastated by stories of lovers who never get up the guts to talk to each other about their problems and both end up dying broken-hearted or such. I never do that. Instead I sacrifice myself on the alter of humility (was that Shakespeare or Joseph Gordon Levitt? Who, I just learned yesterday, is gay. Alas for women. He was so cute walking around campus with his little cheeky grin.). It seems from the evasive cover copy that Ms. Diamant found some kind of 19th century pamphlet or newsletter from/about Dogtown (Cape Ann, MA) and constructed this book around some of the stories she gleaned from that source.

I admit I wasn't a big fan of her wandering third-person limited narrator, which is one of the points I always edit out of my freelance fiction manuscripts. I always make a big to-do about how it's not very professional and how "maintaining a constant narrative voice contributes to readability and thereby increases potential readership" yadda yadda and I have to say it did bother me how she would wander unceremoniously in and out of a character's head. I think she was more successful with the first-person narrator of The Red Tent.

But anyway. I think this was a pretty good read. I can't say it was inspirational, or one of my favorite books. Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned here about offering readers some small hope at the end of your book. 360 pages of bitter somehow turn out to be less memorable than 359 pages of bitter and one page of bittersweet.

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