Sometimes it's hard for me, professionally, even though I know this is a blog for which I am not getting paid, to separate my true feelings about a book from a more balanced approach in terms of reviewing. Joyce Maynard's The Good Daughters puts me once again within this dilemma. Other aspects conflicting my ability to write a non-biased review: I have met and interviewed the author, and was incredibly inspired by her; and I loved her previous novel, Labour Day.
But that doesn't take away from the fact that there is something definitively lacking within this book. If I had to put a finger on it -- and this may seem harsh -- it's story. Told from the alternating perspectives of two "birthday sisters" born on the same day in a small rural community in New Hampshire, the book feels more like a character study than a novel, and it lacks a certain polish. The writing is often redundant and repetitive, parts that could be interesting are told in shorthand in the rush, I suppose, to get through the entirety of each woman's life. The book skims the surface and uses cliche to describe key elements (no woman should ever be described as a rare fruit, like, ever) and the constant back and forth feels gimmicky.
It's obvious that there's more to the story than the fact that the two girls, Ruth Plank, a farmer's daughter, so inherently different from the rest of her family, not just physiologically but also emotionally, and Dana Dickerson, stuck with parents who never should have been so, awkward and incredibly different than her flighty family, were both born on the same day in the same hospital nine months after a terrible hurricane (yes, a hurricane, boy it does stir up some awful human emotions and some truly interesting mischief, yawn). And, not to brag, but I had figured out the "twist" by about page two and then had to read on until the big reveal -- Maynard parsing out little clues here and there throughout. What's most astonishing is that both Ruth and Dana, intelligent, well-adjusted women both, didn't give more thought to how different they are, to the real story, before just about everyone around them who knew the truth ended up dead.
There's a sweetness to the novels that you can't deny, and I think it would make a very good book for, forgive me, suburban mom book clubs. But it really wasn't a book for me -- a quick read, which I always appreciate, with a really great setting (I love the Plank farm; its history and its roots [been in the family for 10 generations]) and I can see what Maynard was trying to do but I always find that books that try to encompass so much, like entire lives instead of those pivotal moments, sometimes lack the depth that I crave in a more literary sense. Yet, the stereotypes and the coincidences are a little too much to take in places -- I appreciate Maynard's inclusive writing, international adoption, a truly beautiful lesbian partnership, are just two examples, but when it all comes together it feels forced, a little too Jodi Picoult movie-of-the-week for my tastes.
Overall, I was disappointed in this book, and I hate to start off a reading year on such a note, but there's always tonight for another try. I'm not sure where I'll go next. There are so many books to choose from. What I'd really like to know is what everyone else is reading and have some recommendations. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to find one or two titles on my shelves.