I’m two weeks into the month of NaNoReMo, and I’ll admit, it’s tough trying to read three hours a day. It has taught me that I watch too much TV, and it has become clear that I don’t read nearly as much as I thought. Also, that pile of books I’m waiting to read? Yeah, that’s going to take much longer than I’m willing to admit. To put a nail in the coffin of my addiction, I went to ALA Midwinter this past weekend, which was great! Except I gladly walked away with bags of books to read. Books I have no room for. You try turning down free books that haven’t even been published yet!
February is a good month for reading light books that don’t feel too serious. It feels cold enough outside without reading Nordic noir. So I began the month with some graphic novel collections of superhero comics, and a fantasy/adventure/romance steampunk novel. Then I read the worst book I’ve read in 2018.
The Worst Book of 2018
There is a breed of smart people who read a certain amount of a book and can say, “Okay, enough. I don’t want to read this.” And then they put it down and walk away forever. Then there are the other people, who slog through bad books for whatever crazy reason, and seem to expect a participation award, or some brownie points, or something, for finishing the damn book. That’s me. Eventually, I will learn to let go, but for now…
Anna is a young mother with a lot of problems. She has a daughter her husband never wanted her to have, a husband who is at the very least emotionally abusive, and she used to hear voices that came from her daughter before she could talk. Where to start?
It’s hard to describe this book, so bear with me. Written by Lydia Millet, this book is a thriller with a fairly slow pace, given the numerous digressions from what is actually happening. Anna has a daughter, Lena, and before Lena can speak, Anna hears a never ending voice. Once Lena is older and the voice has gone away, Anna decides she can’t live with Ned (her husband) anymore. Having put up with his affairs, lack of interest in Lena, and manipulation for too long, she finally puts together a plan and leaves. What follows is an exploration into what the voices are, and an attempt to finally get away from Ned for good.
What probably bothered me the most about this book was the way in which Ned and Anna’s relationship is treated. While I understand that in any toxic relationship the abused partner may feel guilty and conflicted about leaving, I think Millet wrote Anna’s confusing reaction to certain events just to get to the climax. Spoiler: Ned kidnaps Lena to make Anna follow his rules. After days of panic and heartbreak, Anna gets Lena back, and yet later she is able to delude herself into thinking Ned will just let her divorce him after he gets what he wants.
Anna doesn’t think anyone is taking Ned seriously before he kidnaps Lena. When he does that, and she finally has Lena back, she begins to be suspicious of her new friends’ concern about him. They beg her to be reasonable and assume Ned has the house bugged (which he’s done before), and that he won’t let her divorce him. She thinks:
I’d registered when we first walked in that the house was probably set up for surveillance, I had no reason to think otherwise, but then I’d conveniently forgotten. I still have the habit from my old life of not feeling watched, somehow, a habit that’s been hard to cast off even after I was roofied and had my child stolen–I can be paranoid one minute and the next relapse into my lifelong, previous routine of feeling unwatched. (p. 171)
What a load of crap. Throughout the rest of the book she talks about her fear of being watched, and how she and her daughter move consistently to stay away from Ned. Going from being terrified of Ned following her and bugging her room to feeling unwatched is not what happens! In my opinion, this is an example either of a writer changing her character to allow for plot development, or using a clunky plot device to make readers more thrilled. I really don’t buy it.
I’m not even sure I understood this book in the way Lydia Millet meant. My impression at the end of the book was that the story is ultimately about the way in which technology and language have distanced us from God/a higher entity. But Millet seems to bite off more than she can chew, with a psychological thriller about a family’s difficulties combined with a book about philosophy and the implications of our modern world. Barbara Hoffert wrote a review of the book for Library Journal, and I think she put it well in her verdict: “Compelling in parts, but with Anna’s very real battles with Ned deflected by fuzzy meditation, not successful as a whole” (Vol. 141, issue 6, p. 85). So please, do yourself a favor and don’t add this one to your reading list. If you’re dying for a good book, I’ll be back next week!