Swan by Frances Mayes

I love everything I have read from Frances Mayes: "Bella Tuscany", "Under the Tuscan Sun", "A Year In The World". I didn't know she had written fiction so I was excited to find this book but, and I hate to say this, I was a little disappointed.

The story line and the characters were good, but the first few chapters felt like running in water. I couldn't get going. Several times I thought about quitting and moving on to something else, but I felt an obligation to this author who had given me so much enjoyment with her other books so I stuck it out to the end. She's a good writer, a very good writer; I just wish she had slashed about 15-20 pages (of what I thought was unnecessary information) and given us a meatier version. For me there were a few too many side stories and details that didn't matter and only served to slow it down.

I liked the characters but found them a little distant and hard to connect with. I don't know if that's because Mayes' writing style is somewhat formal, or if the characters got lost in all the other information. Attention doesn't stay on any one character very long, at least not long enough to feel much real sympathy for them. It's frustrating because it has the makings of a great story and yet never quite gets there.

I heard a quote somewhere about what you bring to a book having a huge effect on what you get out of it, and I'm wondering if I just didn't have the right stuff to bring to it. I read it during a week in which I was miserable with the flu and then got some unpleasant news from the Doctor so I wasn't in a great place emotionally. Maybe I wouldn't have loved any book I read. But it is also true that I have found in all of Mayes' books a hesitation to make herself very vulnerable and that certainly appeared to carry over to the characters in Swan. I would love to hear from someone else who has read it to see if our thoughts are at all alike. Is there something missing in this book or was it just a bad week for me to read it?

I just realized I haven't told you anything about the story and anyone who hasn't read it will have no idea what I'm talking about. Not sure where my mind is this week. The story is about a sister and brother living on opposite sides of the world, who reunite in their hometown when their mother's grave is tampered with. Their past is revealed bit by bit through the memories of townspeople, old documents and the conversations they have together. The story is well told and full of potential, the plot interesting, the dialogue good. It has all the elements; it just never drew me in.

I recommend it anyway. Frances Mayes writing is too good to ignore. I do hope if you read it you'll come back and tell me what you think.

Next: "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski


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