The blurbs compare this title to THE SECRET HISTORY and REBECCA, so perhaps my expectations were too high with this novel. The premise: Catherine Strayed gave up her own career to support her husband’s writing, even moving to an insufferable small town to do so. When her former professor/lover, Henry Swallow (who is also the reviewer who destroyed her husband’s career), moves to town, things get awkward. Now widowed, she leads a quiet life until Antonia Lively, Henry’s latest protege, turns up at her door.
First, the Big Ideas: What is fiction? What responsibilities does an author have? Who owns a story – the writer, or those who lived it? At what point is fiction separate from the reality that inspired it? These are certainly interesting questions, and Levinson explores them thoroughly. He doesn’t reach any Big Conclusion, but it would have been shocking if he had. As an intellectual exercise, this novel provokes discussion admirably.
The plot: The “shocking” twists and turns are somewhat random, and Levinson relies overmuch on coincidence. One “revelation” surprised me only because the characters hadn’t realized it earlier. The pacing is very slow, and I’m a patient reader. Sixty pages in, I had only managed to reach the emotion “bored.” It took me two weeks to slog through the first 100 pages because I kept putting it down in favor of books that actually held my interest.
The characters: ANTONIA LIVELY BREAKS THE SILENCE reminded me a bit of THE GREAT GATSBY, in the sense that it was very well-written, but I cared not a whit for any of the characters. I had developed some minor sympathy for Catherine by end of the first third, but then Levinson changed points of view, and I could barely be bothered to continue. There’s an “I” in the third-person-wandering point-of-view, and I believe I was supposed to be surprised when the identity is revealed. I wasn’t; rather, I couldn’t see the point. Something something clever metafiction, I suppose. Or something.
I don’t have to like characters, but I need something besides an intellectual exercise to keep me going. If I hadn’t committed to write a review for this novel, I would have chucked it after the first sixty pages without concern that I would miss anything.
Source disclosure: I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher.