If I could sum up this book with one word it would be: contrived. Sometimes I read a book that just brings out the worst in me, I want to make that book suffer as I have suffered. And I know that if it’s like that I should quit, shut the book and move on with my life. And I’ve done that before (Again, But Better; Oona Out of Order; etc) but there are books I persevere through. Maybe hoping that despite thinking in the first few sentences that it is poorly written, maybe it will turn out to at least be a fun read. Maybe there is something here worth my time. And it’s those books, the ones I hope for some satisfying conclusion that tick me off more than the ones that are so bad I just give up.
I can’t decide if The Lending Library is one I should have just given up on, I mean, obviously if by the end I didn’t find anything redeemable, then I should have. But at the same time, there’s lots to be learned from bad books too. If I weren’t a writer (and I can call myself that even if I’m not published) then this would have been a colossal waste of time, but since I am one, I used it like a novel autopsy. What killed this book? Or more so, since it was never alive from page 1, why was it dead on arrival?
Dodie – our main character who at times you have to wonder if she has some kind of mental handicap or did drugs or inhaled too many paint fumes. I’m not going to diss her for her inability to pick a lane in the hobby department, except to say that you shouldn’t follow your passion folks. Get a real job, don’t feel betrayed by a boyfriend who also thinks maybe you shouldn’t quit your day job, be grateful that he likes you even though you’re terribly misguided. Passions are for hobbies, Dodie wants her passions to consume her life so much so that they are pushing each other out of the way. I too, have a lot of things I’m interested in, I love reading, baking, writing, photography, etc. But you know what would be a terrible book? If I wrote about all of this like it mattered to anyone else. It doesn’t, and I know that, which is why my memoir, “Still In the Room” will never be published (or written). Dodie is a flat character, we don’t know what it is she wants, even after chapter four or five when it’s stated very clearly that she is baby hungry. I don’t know if I was somehow supposed to pick up on that beforehand but I did not. So – All that she wants is another baby…no those are song lyrics. But apparently that’s her goal, meet and seduce a man, get married and have a baby BEFORE her 35th birthday because her sister says they can’t have children after 35 because mom and grandma couldn’t. Dodie at best is an incredibly emotionally stunted individual. I’ve known quite a few of those but Dodie takes the cake, she is all of them rolled up into one. She is a failed artist, turned art teacher, turned librarian who still dabbles as a NYC foodie (without the NYC though) and overachieving baker (I should know). Dodie is a spoiled, selfish brat who never–ever changes. At the beginning of the book there’s been a terrible breakup and so I’m thinking he cheated on her or something. BUT he didn’t like her artwork (NO ONE DID, just reading about it I wanted to burn it). So, she broke up with him and there’s no way she could ever, ever, take him back. So she quits art, gets an education degree and becomes an art teacher in a small CT town.
Chatsworth (I care so little I’m not even going to make sure I’ve spelled it right) – A small town that sounds awfully diverse without a reason for the diversity. We are given no hint as to the socioeconomic makeup of this town, some people seem really well off but apparently everyone is so poor that the local library being closed for repairs hits them all hard (uh…amazon anyone?) and that there’s a little black boy in town who’s never seen ‘someone like him’ in a book before…this book is based in the 2000’s…if this town is as diverse as we are led to believe with all the unique name dropping, then WHY has he not seen one? Why hasn’t his mother shown him one? I can list tons of kids books with little black kids in it (Corduroy for one – that’s been around since I was a kid).
Race – That leads me to race. As I said before, I feel that the town’s racial makeup is contrived to seem more like an inclusive book. I’m not going to lie, if it clearly stated what race Dodie and family are- I missed it. So there were times that I wasn’t sure she was white. At one point, I actually thought she might be black. For a book so stuck on race, it’s funny it wasn’t more clear and for a book that at least twice mentioned that little black boys may not have seen ‘someone like them before’ it doesn’t really touch on racial issues. So it’s like, “Hey, I’m diverse and I’m going to drop this line here and offer absolutely nothing else. It’s a problem, for sure, but it’s enough just to place the problem in the novel to show…who knows what, but we’re not even going to discuss it.”
Privilege – I read another review of this book where the reviewer (I’ll point out that she’s white because this is a trend I can’t stand) talks about the white privilege, not taking in to account that the wealthiest member of Dodie’s family is her black brother-in-law. When someone pointed this out to her she didn’t change her game, he just got excluded from the privilege part. I’ll grant you, Dodie has some maddening privilege that makes her tone deaf to anyone living in the real world. But it has NOTHING to do with her race (as her BIL proved by being black and better off). I think the better way to describe it is that this book is riddled with CLASS PRIVLEGE. Dodie’s parent’s help buy her the house (why she needs a house when she is just starting a teaching career in a small town without tenure or anything…work hard like the rest of us! I didn’t get help buying my first home, I worked hard and took on roommates immediately to help pay for things but whatever, you do you Dodie). Then she talks about debts and keeps racking them up by going out to eat at expensive restaurants and constantly making fancy sounding foods (which I care nothing for and didn’t even bother trying to figure out what it was she was eating).
The Library – How big is her sunroom? Dodie sets the library up in her sunroom but when she describes the library it sounds much bigger. How does she fit like six bookshelves, at least one cushy chair, a circulation desk, a place for comment cards and a bulletin board (how many solid walls does a sunroom have) and a place to hang her art (her friend’s idea). She hosts story times and book clubs and even an art show at some point (where the terribly uncultured residents overpay like $8,000 to buy her artwork…which I wouldn’t have paid $20 for). I mean, they never said exactly how many pieces of art she had though, maybe she had 8,000 paintings. Anyway, point, there’s no TARDIS magic in this story, none that’s spoken of anyway, but clearly something’s happening (or Dodie is extra spoiled and has a huge starter home).
Dodie’s inaction – Dodie doesn’t do anything. Sure she starts the lending library, but several times at the beginning she was straight up taking credit for other’s ideas. Either we just read someone else came up with the idea and she takes credit, or she’s taking credit and then says that someone else told her to do it. One of her ‘best ideas’, to start a food related book club, apparently came from her friend, we learned this just sentences after she says it was probably one of her best ideas. Really? She talks about sacrificing her relationship with her fiancé (sorry, spoiler but you don’t plan to read this, right?) but he left her. A character comes in to the library with a LIST of books recommended by FRIENDS. She has ONE of those books, gets it for him and then pretty much loses sleep wondering if she made a mistake giving that man the book, would he read in to it too much? What?? She didn’t recommend it, why would he read in to it when she simply had the book for him to borrow? And it doesn’t help that all the characters are just paper cut out people there to boost her ego and say, “you’re right, that was your idea. You’re the best person ever, you aren’t crazy in the least.”
Dodie’s Motivation – All I can say is, what motivation? Contrived again. Telling me to believe it’s important isn’t the same as making me believe it is important. Nothing Dodie did or said had me caring in the least. The stakes weren’t high, they were in her mind but the reader is left unconvinced of this. They were flexible and ever changing and I kept coming up with the solution super easy eons before someone else suggested them to her (see, she didn’t even come up with solutions, everyone just told her what to do…but I guess in her mind, she came up with them!)
Dodie’s Desires – don’t get me wrong, Dodie is a horn dog. Her lust and desires for the flesh of man is not hard to pick up on as she describes things in really gross, awkward ways. There’s not enough interiority for it to chance being anything else. I don’t think Dodie is capable of loving anything or anyone if they don’t constantly make her feel good or, “flambee her underwear”…what? her words, definitely not mine, never in a million years would that thought cross my mind and if it did, I wouldn’t put it in a book and admit to the world that I had thought that.
She should be arrested: Girlfriend is a straight up stalker. AND NO ONE CALLS HER OUT ON IT! I would. Even if I didn’t call the police we’d have a serious talk about why women in their 30’s shouldn’t stalk children, they should see a therapist.
Transitions: There are none! At one point she is asking a character to hold down the fort while she runs upstairs to get the book (also, she talks about how she wonders if he’s thinking of the fact that her book is next to her bed *wink wink* you weirdos). The next line, she’s talking again saying, “here you go”. Poof! She wiggled her nose and got the book in her hand without having to leave the scene physically or mentally! Magic. She falls asleep a few times but we don’t know that until after she wakes up she apologizes for falling asleep. Half the time I was just confused on what just happened.
Lack of tension: I’m reading “Understanding Conflict” she talks about all the different things that a reader could assume is a lack of conflict. So this book has been good in that I’ve read through looking for examples. There are so many here. But lack of tension is one. The writer sets up what could be a nerve wracking experience for the reader but almost as quickly as you can breath in, the conflict resolves. One example, her boyfriend is gone all day when they were supposed to have lunch together. She turns on the news and immediately is hearing that there is an accident on the construction site where boyfriend works. She’s like, “oh no!” gets on cell phone to call but there’s no answer. This is the moment where she should be evaluating the terrible relationship she has and her part in that. This is the type of thing where you are like, “oh no, I really do love them more than a baby” or something, anything, but instead it’s, “he doesn’t pick up.” “Hey honey!” from directly behind her, she didn’t hear him come through the front door and that must be why he didn’t answer the phone…seriously…that’s not how real life works and even if it was, the reader WANTS to feel that tension, wants to feel that the main character could actually lose everything. In fact, the most satisfying parts are the moments when you think she’s going to lose her boyfriend, who she says she loves but as I said above, I don’t think she’s actually capable. She wants to BE loved, without a thought to actually loving someone.
Her Romantic Relationship – This girl doesn’t give an inch! She doesn’t communicate with her sigfig. Doesn’t listen to what he wants (or doesn’t want) and in the end, that doesn’t matter. Without doing anything to better herself or change, the male comes around and declares his love, her perfection, his luckiness to even breath the same air as her (okay maybe no that extreme but pretty close). Dodie wants someone to worship her, and she basically gets it. Instead of saying, “you don’t communicate with me, you don’t care what I want,” we get, “I realized that you were right, what you want is important, etc. etc. etc. blah, blah, blah, vomit.” Oh and what she wants? She doesn’t get it. She’s just magically over it, or maybe she never cared because she is flighty to boot.
I’m sorry, but I got to tell you, if you want a good story about an artist who is a little off her rocker, might I suggest the Unicorn Store on Netflix. Or if you want a good book (3.5 stars IMO) on a single woman looking for love and setting up their own libraries might I suggest The Bookshop on the Corner. I just can’t in good conscious recommend this one to you.