Oh, this book. OH THIS BOOK. I wish I had better things to write about Mary Gordon's Pearl. I know how hard it is to write a novel, and I always try to judge books with that thought in mind, but I couldn't get over how annoying I found the narrative voice in this book. Gordon uses the second person, a device that rarely works beyond Choose Your Own Adventure, and the narrator TELLS the entire story. I know it's obnoxious but it's the kind of writing I hate -- the storytelling, the David Adams Richards-esque, perspective that ultimately means that the writer doesn't trust the reader to GET it.
Pearl, the title character, is a, natch, beautiful young woman in her twenties; she's impressionable but brilliant at languages, so she's studying Irish in Ireland in the 1990s. Taking a very tragic accident to heart, she chains herself to the American embassy after putting herself on a hunger strike for six weeks. She's going to die for a cause -- in a roundabout way, the Peace accord that Sinn Fein signed -- and feels her actions are right and just. Her mother, Maria, a strong-minded, strong-willed woman who came of age in the 60s, flies to Ireland to try and save her daughter's life.
The premise feels so forced, in fact, the melodrama of the entire story degrades the very real politics in the novel. It belittles them to the point that I was a little offended. That Pearl invokes Bobby Sands, that she is so taken by his very real and very necessary actions, isn't what bothered me, what bothered me the most is the arrogant way the narrator speaks from her perspective. It's not that Gordon is a bad writer -- she's just far, far too precious of a writer. It's as if she's in love with every single sentence and doesn't have the heart to cut to the actual story, which, had it been allowed to be shown instead of told, could have been quite affecting.
There's also a moment of such pure absurdity, I mean, eye-rolling absurdity, between Pearl, Maria and Joseph, Maria's quasi-adoptive brother (he's the son of her housekeeper; Maria's mother died when she was two and her father employed Joseph's mother; he became like Maria's brother, caretaker, and so much more), that put the nail in the coffin for this novel for me. I almost didn't finish but I am on a mission and I stuck with it. But I'll tell you one thing -- it's hellish to try and read a book you really aren't liking at 4 AM. On the whole, I didn't find a single part of this book believable, not the characters, not the situation, and especially not the intrusive, annoying, overbearing narrator who just wouldn't remove themselves and let me enjoy the writing. It's the first dud from my shelves. How disappointing, eh?