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Customer Review

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Transcendental meditation and dirty deeds, 2 April 2013
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This review is from: Dirt (Hardcover)
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It's 1985 in Sacramento, California and 22-year-old Galen lives with his 46-year-old mother Suzie-Q in a remote house that she has spent her whole life living in. Galen, a bulemic vegetarian, seeks transcendence or the state of being free from the constraints of the material world, so he is not particularly interested in the money that his mother claims she has access to by way of an inheritance from her abusive father. Galen's grandmother is still alive though, albeit with a failing memory, and the only other characters are Suzie's sister Helen and her promiscuous 17-year-old daughter Jennifer. The story starts off in one direction - Helen's fury at not having access to the family riches - but then changes to focus almost exclusively on Galen's pursuit of transcendence. He is distracted by the sexual advances of his teenage cousin, and one or two of these incestuous experiences are described in intimate detail, yet the very long-drawn-out ending has little to do with that and very much to do with the irrelevance of everything physical and material.

After a few chapters this promises to become an entertaining black comedy, but it never really fulfills that impression. In many ways emotions are described too literally and even obviously. It would have been better to have left more to the reader's imagination, but the author consistently saves the reader the bother of wondering about details and tells us himself. So despite being a relatively short novel, there's a degree of excessive and unnecessarily heavy dialogue and narrative that spells out for the reader what might have been more entertaining to figure out for ourselves. On the other hand, this could be seen as simply the deliberately adopted style of the story-telling and some might welcome it. Personally I found it a bit OTT, and would have preferred more subtlety, more vagueness.

As it is, it's a slightly odd story, or at the very least a story about an odd family, and a family that's hard to sympathise with or feel any empathy towards. Almost all of the personality of the family is embodied by Galen, and despite the very intensive examinations of his identity it's somehow difficult to really know who or what he is. The most likely explanation is that he is the result of years of emotional abuse (mainly by his mother), but as this all happened in the past, we can only gloss over that as very little of that abuse appears in the narrative. The bottom line is that this is a cold-hearted family with little in the way of conventional bonding, and Galen's obsession with transcendence only serves to underline that isolation and sense of pointlessness.

I selected this novel in direct response to the positive reviews I had read here, but the reading experience has been a disappointment. It kept my attention throughout but I can't say that I truly enjoyed it.
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