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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reader's Diary #667- Sarah Felix Burns: Song Over Quiet Lake


Whenever I hear the name Jodi Picoult, I think, "good premise, lame book." It's not a compliment then when I say that Sarah Felix Burns' Song Over Quiet Lake is very Picoultian.

The back cover synopsis says, "An unexpected friendship between twenty-something Sylvia Hardy and Lydie Jim, an eighty-two-year-old Tlingit elder from the Yukon, will change both their lives." It should also be noted that Sylvia is white. Yes, the relationship is unexpected, or at the very least, uncommon. Even more uncommon is that Lydie is an octogenarian undergrad and that Sylvia's younger brother was the victim of an unsolved murder as a young boy.

But any hope that these unusual circumstances will make for an interesting book are crushed when the rest is riddled with cliches and predictable plots. Alcoholic native, check. Wise but sassy old native lady, check. Hippy British Columbians, check. And worst of all, the tacked on love story that you see from a mile away. Sylvia and Lydie's son Jonah are from two different cultures, there's an age gap, and of course, they fight all the time. Not surprising, and unfortunately, their blooming love for one another ends up dominating the whole story. What happened to Lydie?

And there's dream sequence after dream sequence after dream sequence. Burns tells us in the acknowledgments that the novel was conceived in a dream. And then the individual characters share their dreams. Why are so many authors into dream analysis? And why do so many fictional dreams have such obvious clarity and meaning? My dreams are usually: so I'm at back in my old high school, except it looks like a hospital waiting room, and there's a dog there and it's jumping up trying to lick me, but when I push it away it turns into a wicker basket, and when I look inside there's an empty can of peaches and I'm so hungry, and then Dave Coulier is there but he's supposed to be my physics teacher I think, and he says that I shouldn't worry because breakfast is ready and then I wake up because my wife is calling out that breakfast is ready. See? Utter nonsense. The way most dreams are. Except for those of authors apparently because Burns isn't the only one to bombard readers with such annoying and artificial dreams that are supposed to somehow represent a character's innermost thoughts and demons.

There's yet another problem with the abundance of characters that appear in their own chapters briefly. The priest character who opens the book is interesting enough and does get a few more chapters throughout. However, his connection to Lydie doesn't really tie into her life later on. Plus each of Lydie's son's get chapters. Sylvia's mom gets a chapter. I'd rather if Burns had just given Lydie some chapters, and given Sylvia the rest. Supposedly they're the main characters after all. The other perspectives were merely a bunch of distractions from a plot that was hard enough to get into as it was.

If it's not painfully obvious, I didn't enjoy this book at all.

7 comments:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I am running away screaming from this one, then!

Biblibio said...

First off, that's the greatest description of Jodi Picoult I've ever read. A hat tip, indeed.

As for this book... I'd even add the cover and title as falling into the same cliched rut. I'll be honest that the premise doesn't actually sound that interesting to me, but that's obviously a matter of taste. And regarding the dream sequence thing... yes. I don't understand how dreams are always so meaningful in books...

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Now, now, I'm sure there are those that would like it.

Biblibio: Maybe Picoult and Burns vacation here.

Teddy Rose said...

Yikes! I`m skipping this one!

Wanda said...

Hmmm ... it sounds a little like Astrid and Veronika (which I did like) but think I'll pass on this one.

Heather said...

I have this one sitting and waiting to be read. I am still looking forward to it, who knows what I will see in it.

John Mutford said...

And you can read Heather's more positive review here.