I've been conflicted over the last few days about whether or not to create a post for Jane Green's latest book, Dune Road. There were two things I liked about the book -- the attempt to move beyond generic chicklit into a more mature story and it's perfection for an easy read if you're sitting on the beach for an afternoon. That said, there were a lot of problems with the book too. Continuity (or lack thereof) really makes me crazy, both in film and in fiction, and when authors repeat themselves, use the same cliches to describe multiple situations, add in unnecessary and completely irrelevant scenes, I get a little frustrated. So much about Dune Road could have been better -- that's not to say that it's bad -- but there are too many characters with too disperate storylines that don't always connect. Simply, there's just too much going on in this book and had Green slowed down and tackled maybe just one relationship instead of four or five, Dune Road would have been all the better improved by it.
But maybe I'm putting too much pressure on a book that's clearly meant to be escapist in terms of its read. The novel tells the story of divorcee (she's in her early 40s) Kit Hargrove and her family, which includes her ex-husband, two kids, a mother, and surrogate mother (her next door neighbour) as she navigates her new life. That means finding a new love (but can he be trusted?), a new job (as an assistant to a best-selling but secretive novelist with a tragic past akin to Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood), and finding her way to happiness. Accompanying her on this journey are her two best friends, Charlie and Tracy, who each have their own complex stories that further complicate both the novel and Kit's life. The book throws in multiple mysteries, then tops them off with various cliched happenstances (long-lost relatives; shady pasts; soap opera love affairs) and tosses all of this about like a salad hoping a novel appears.
Primarily what the books could haved used was a bit of editing. Please let's not use the exact same phraseology to describe more than one relationship. Please don't introduce characters with vivid backstories who have absolutely no relevance to the central storyline. Please take more care to introduce shady characters who actually appear in the novel. More action, less telling, and for goodness sake, why not make it a triology -- exploring each character: Kit, Charlie and Tracy in a full-length book so we feel at least satisfied that we, as readers, are getting the whole story.
In general, I can accept commercial fiction as it is -- fun, frivolous and frothy. That's why I whip through these books at lightning speed when I need a bit of a holiday from the tedium of everyday life. Remember, I'm nothing but a sappy girl at heart, as I've said many times in the past, but I also enjoy and am consistently impressed by writers who take up the challenge of moving beyond the cliches and the "read it all befores" to kickstart a genre that's truly in need of a little facelift. I've been consistently disappointed with my latest chicklit reads, and have honestly enjoyed some of the Harlequins I blurbed over the last year far more. They may be predictable (as was this novel), but at least they feel a little bit more honest in terms of using their formulas in new and innovative ways.
However, I don't want to end on such a negative note. I was sucked in from the very beginning of this book and read it over the course of a day. I even took the long way home via the TTC so I could get in a few more moments with the characters. There's something special in a writer who can convincingly pull you along until the end of the book -- someone who creates emotional lives for her characters in a way that you are consistently empathizing versus sympatizing, which for me, is always a richer reading experience. All in all this is a very good book for me to pass along to my adorable mother-in-law who broadly reads this kind of woman's fiction. I think she'd like it very, very much.