This one goes out to Susan and Margret who were very kind to me during my first ever Barns and Noble Book Club. They did spend 20 minutes talking about their bridge game, but we also had a good discussion about Tea Obreht and latest novel Inland.
The discussion was good, the contents of the discussion were not. In fact, the B&N book club leader herself was wondering how these books were picked. A push for publicity? A deal with publishing houses? Because we all agreed that this book was not good.
Let me tell you why I, and several other grandmas, felt this way. Obreht has written a new novel, Inland is described as a historical or western fiction, about life in the wild Arizona territory of 1893. Particularity the lives of Nora and Laurie. Nora is a frontier woman, married with three children. She’s also looking after the daughter of a friend (or something) and her ancient mother in law. The two older boys went missing several days ago, looking for their father who had gone missing days before that. She’s left trying not to panic and trying to keep everything together. Oh yes, she also is kept company by the ghost (spirit?) of her daughter who died very young.
Laurie, we discover through a series of letters he’d written, was an outlaw. He had a rough upbringing that landed him with a rough crowd, and got caught up with some petty bandits. This issue was compounded however when one of the bandits died and his spirit of stealing came upon Laurie. This is an issue Laurie discovers will come up whenever he touches dead people and has learned to avoid them best he can.
What. Ok, but like, what.
And this, dear reader, is my first issue. This book isn’t historic fiction. It has ghosts and whatnot. But it is also not magical realism. Besides the ghosts, it’s kind of a western. But it isn’t really a western, it’s got very few of the traditional elements. And I’m all for breaking the boundaries of traditional genres, but it must serve a purpose. It didn’t do that here. It seemed like Obreht was confused.
Which is how I felt also about the language in the book. Some of it was true to the time period, but much of it was modern. It was particularly jarring when Nora popped off and started cursing and yelling at everyone in modern slang. And why? Again, I can’t figure out what the goal of that blending was, except Obreht wanted to make things confusing.
But back to the plot. It didn’t make much sense. Nora gets wrapped up in small town politics. Laurie gets involved with a group of camel riders and crisscrosses across the country.
I wait 300 pages for the story to make sense, for their paths to cross.
SPOILER ALERTTTTTTTTTT: In a series of increasingly unclear events, Laurie ran into Nora’s husband, then runs into his spirit after he’s died. Also, he’s dead. Nora basically kills the young woman under her care out of selfish means. In fact, Nora’s been selfish and rude and a jerk the whole book. I did not like her. And it went far beyond the ‘woman living on the frontier hardness,’ Because Laurie’s letters are to his camel post death (ok are we for real now) they don’t make a ton of sense and give us very little insight into the real Laurie.
Then, while Nora is allowing the young woman to die slowly in the barn because she doesn’t want to admit she messed up, she very suddenly is like, omg, my husband is definitely dead.
And at the end she takes a drink of water from dead Laurie’s canteen because she hasn’t had water in days. What happens next made ZERO sense to me until I Googled it. The sip of water was magical and she saw the different ways her life could have played out. The end.
And if you read my review on Milkman, you know I’m not opposed to literature that takes some work. Sometimes those are the best. However, it has to be worth it.
It was so bad. Honestly, everyone in the group was like I won’t read it again, I wouldn’t give it to anyone else to read. And, while I’m sorry for the sake of what I’m sure was a lot of hard work from Obreht, I agree. So, do yourself a favor and read something out there that is worth!