Three Rocks Press, $14.95, ISBN 978-1442148741
Contemporary Fiction, 2009
Place is a story about relationships, which makes it the kind of story that I usually enjoy reading. This one tells the story of Hugh Ogden, a brilliant and of course good-looking software engineering who is hoping to cash in his chips, and Abigail Snipes, a corporate consultant whom he meets during discussions of selling off his company. They have both loved and lost before, and this is the story of them trying to find a happy ending together.
Sounds good, but yikes, I can never warm up to the author’s writing. He writes as if this story is one long meandering stream of consciousness. Here is an example:
Abigail sits with me on South Beach watching waves comb up over the shallows, lose the weight under them, lose their foundation, then curl and splinter into froth. I see the secret in the squint of her eye and the lowering of her eyebrows and again I move a little to let the sun gleam on this place above and a little beside her right eye where the dark eyebrow hairs feather away into nothing, where the skin pocks with an apostrophe-sized scar. Tricycle accident, she told me once. Waves break and swash along this beach that could be anywhere but Nantucket, because it is deserted, because she frightened the public away and she wants privacy.
I hang on, hand folding around her bent knee. She needs hanging on to.
She twists away to free another bottle of ale from the cooler. The ale gives us courage to dive under the breakers to find calm water for peeing it away. We freeze our asses off, even in July, muttering fuck-all while squatting in the Atlantic.
“The secret in the squint of her eye”? Related to some kind of tricycle accident? And the poor woman’s scar frightened visitors away from the beach? As they are squatting over the Atlantic ocean? What? What?
It goes on and on like this. There are also distracting inconsistent changes of fonts in the version of the book I am reading, as the author can’t seem to decide between using italics or a different font to depict flashbacks so he uses both depending on his whim.
Is this a good story with engaging characters and compelling emotional drama? Not really. This story is written like a more literary take on the Nicholas Sparks formula of the fragile woman and the big strong man who, er, grabs on to her knee because she needs hanging on to, even if she wants to go get a bottle of ale. I’m more distracted by the abundance of formatting issues and the author’s self-conscious attempts at sounding literary only to come off instead as incoherent and pretentious. Place makes me work ten times harder to wade my way through it compared to a typical novel by Nicholas Sparks, with about the same pay-off. It goes without saying that if you ask me to choose between this book and any random title by Nicholas Sparks, I’d choose the title by Nicholas Sparks.