Monday, July 11, 2011

The Radio in My Head

You can't hear it, but I'm listening to Heather Nova's South album over and over and over again. Great summer music!

Trudging toward the conclusion,

Monday, July 04, 2011

OMG, Another Sequel

A review of Sisterhood Everlasting: A Novel by Ann Brashares, published by Random House, 2011

After reading Ann Brashares' first novel for adults, the dreadful The Last Summer (of You and Me), I told myself I would not read her work again. Last week, when I saw Brashares has published a new volume in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, I relented, thinking I would enjoy a light summer novel. My mistake.

The characters of the Sisterhood are now twenty-nine years old. Once again, as in the earlier books in the series, they have lost touch with one another. Carmen is an actress based in New York. Lena teaches art in Rhode Island. Bridget remains restless after years of doing nothing in San Francisco. At last Tibby initiates a get-together in Greece, where a death occurs. The plot then focusses on grieving for and reassembling the Sisterhood.

There are so many things wrong with Sisterhood Everlasting that reviewing the book seems almost futile. The protagonists (sections are narrated from various characters' perspectives) are still as vapid and self-absorbed as they were as teens — apparently they all failed to mature in the decade since their last book together. Other characters appear only to advance the plot. Eric, Brian, Effie, Jones, Eudoxia, and various walk-ons are flat, wooden, undeveloped, and sadly uninteresting. Unlike many other writers, Brashares rarely digresses to provide back story for the people Carmen, Lena, and Bridget interact with or to flesh out the details of the Sisterhood's world. Her narrative camera follows strictly her main characters, reducing the story to something like paper dolls marching across various cardboard backdrops. As writing technique, it's unsatisfying.

Although they are staring down thirty, the members of the Sisterhood still act like girls. Carmen and Bridget are unwilling to commit to, or break up with, the men in their lives (with whom they have sophomoric, simplistic relationships), and Lena has not moved beyond Kostos, her long-ago summer love. Only Tibby has set down roots — in Australia — and only unintentionally. These spoiled, privileged girls flit around the globe carelessly, apparently without having to worry about work, bills or rent, other friends and family, or the larger world. As in her previous work for adult readers, Brashares treats sexuality coyly, off stage — an ironic choice, given the plot. Characters' emotional arcs are self-centred and adolescent; apparently for Brashares, adulthood doesn't arrive until one's thirties. None of these characters are likable as women in their late twenties, and the story of their coming together again is stupidly implausible. (And haven't any of these characters heard of Facebook?)

The novel concludes, as have all previous books in the series, with the Sisterhood's renewed commitment to love one another and themselves. Brashares has also introduced at least two plot points that will keep the series alive. For some readers that may be good news, but this book is my last journey with the Sisterhood. The hackneyed prose, the overburdened sentimentality, and the Oprah-style affirmations are simply too cloying for my taste.

The novel is ostensibly intended for adults but reveals the genealogy of a weak strain of YA books. It is formulaic, superficial, and trite. It is also likely to be a summer 2011 bestseller, as the readers of the original Traveling Pants books may follow the author into chick-lit lite. Even as beach reading, Sisterhood Everlasting is a throwaway effort, not worth your time.