various recent books I might have loved, but then didn't: Year of Wonders

This novel slid away from me. I liked the narrative voice, the historical detail, the setting. I liked the main character, a young woman who tells us about the year in which her small village isolates itself in an effort not to spread the plague. It’s a very hard year.

My problem with the novel is how the main male character — not a romantic interest for her, but the minister married to the woman who becomes her best friend — does a one hundred and eighty degree turn suddenly, and with very little warning. Or really, it’s not so much that he turns out to be something different than what we are led to believe for 3/4 of the novel, but how that was accomplished.

It’s hard to say much about this without giving away a great deal, so I’ll finish with a generality: when you tell a story, you’ve got to earn the crisis. In this case it felt slightly off to me, a little disingenuous, and hurried. For that reason (at least in part) the last chapters and resolution struck the wrong note.

King has been writing for a long time. He’s mellowed in some ways. One thing that jumps out about this novel immediately is its length. Which is about average for a novel these days, someplace over 300 pages. For him, this is a very short novel.

This is another case where I liked the premise, the characters, the execution, and then things slowly fall apart. The story starts with an upheaval of huge proportions. One day out of the blue somebody (who is never established) grabs hold of the whole cellular phone network and sends out a Pulse (as they call it later) that basically strips the person who hears it down to the core. Everything is gone except rage. Chaos ensues; people, terrified, pick up their cell phones to call the police. Things get out of hand.

The main character wants to get back to his son, and to do that he has to travel a good distance and face down lots of challenges along the way. In terms of storyline, classic. A lot you can do with this — a lot King has done before. To his credit, this doesn’t feel very much like The Stand (although there are some echoes), but it also doesn’t quite reach its potential. The final confrontation kind of sputters there on the page and never really comes to life.

The last scene, on the other hand, was perfectly handled.

Maybe I do love this novel. I certainly stayed up reading it until the wee hours, because I was so engaged with the characters and so worried about them.

It’s funny, full of interesting characters who interact with each other in engaging and enraging and magical ways. But to pull off this story, Lorna Landvik had to do some really awful things to her characters, and I found it hard to cope. I’m still angry about Thor, Patty Jane’s husband. I can’t say more than that, because really, I’m hoping you’ll all go out and read it and agree with me. So I can sit here and make disapproving noises to myself.

Note: I have said here, you have read in many other places, that it’s not the novelist’s job to be nice to the characters. Story arises out of conflict. Conflict involves pain of one kind or another. But in this case? I protest. Even given the resolution, I still protest. On the other hand, I’ll probably read it again, which means that this novel does what it’s supposed to do: it made me feel something, it made me think.

So go read it please and come back here and tell me how right I am.