Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Cradle: Skip the Tissues, Bring Prozac

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Matt Wilson's pregnant wife demands pickles at midnight, he heads to the store. When she insists the baby needs to sleep in the same cradle she used as a baby, he hops in the car. He's learned from experience that there's no use trying to talk her out of things - what Marissa wants, Marissa gets. Never mind that Matt really can't afford to miss a day of work at the factory, never mind that he hasn't a clue where Marissa's mother or the cradle might be, never mind that the last thing on Earth he wants to be doing is chasing down his wife's nutty family - what Marrisa wants, Marissa gets. Thus, the quest begins.

Finding a clue to his mother-in-law's whereabouts turns out to be easy - her sister lives in nearby Minnesota. Finding the woman herself is a whole 'nother story. As Matt zigzags across three states tracking the woman and the detritus she's left in her wake, he realizes just how much damage she's caused to those left behind. Ruminating on his own rocky childhood, Matt examines the meaning of family and parenthood as he edges ever closer to becoming a father himself. His quest turns into a more complicated journey than he ever thought it would be - it becomes the journey to find himself.

Alternating with Matt's story is that of Renee Owen, a children's author who's paralyzed by her son's decision to join the Marines. As he ships off to Iraq, regrets of the past come closing in on Renee. While watching one son go off to war, her thoughts turn to another boy, one whose very existence haunts her. As her story and Matt's collide, both will find answers, more questions, and, for one of them, a surprising shot at redemption.

Mysteries with family secrets at their centers are my favorite kind, but I still had a hard time liking Patrick Somerville's debut novel, The Cradle. I'm having a hard time putting my finger on exactly what bothered me about the book. There are several things, really: (1) I could never quite wrap my head around the fact that Matt would up and leave to do his wife's bidding without any real argument or discussion. It all seemed a little ridiculous; (2) The story gets bleaker by the second. Although the story is hopeful in the end, the rest of it is just kind of depressing; and (3) Most of the characters are greedy, cold-hearted, conniving, pathetic excuses for human beings. Depressing.

On the bright side, this short novel (only 200 pages) remains readable, interesting and unique throughout. It's disturbing, but also compelling. What really stands out in The Cradle is the characters - not Matt, Marissa or Renee so much, but the minor leaguers. Somerville describes these quirky folks so aptly that the reader sees, hears and smells them in vivid detail. It doesn't matter if they're only on stage for a page or two, they come alive. In some cases, frighteningly so.

Still, I can't say I really enjoyed this one. It was just such a downer. Somerville's a talented writer, but unless he chooses some happier subjects, I won't be reading him again. Not without popping some Prozac anyway ...

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language, some sexual content, and adult themes/situations

To the FTC, with love: Another one from the library. Sorry, boys.

1 comment:

  1. Great review. Motherhood has so many ups and downs that I won't be seeking this one out.

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