Tuesday, August 19, 2008
So Long at the Fair is the story of pivotal day in the Life of Jon and Ginny. The couple are high school sweethearts who found their connection due to a devastating accident and have been married for several years. Ginny is a lovable pack rat whose gardening business is beginning to flourish, while Jon is a typical type-A advertising executive, driven and focused on Freddi, a woman outside of their marriage. The novel frames an intense day when Jon must decide whether to abandon his fledgling affair, or to continue it and leave Ginny behind. Sprinkled throughout this story is the story of Bud and Marie, Jon's parents, whose actions are told in flashback. Bud and Marie's actions have had repercussions that have impacted Jon and Ginny's life, and brought them where they are today. As the couple spends the day separated by an argument, both examine the relationship and and remember the events that ultimately brought them together. In between we learn of Freddi's attempts to dissuade a persistent admirer who doesn't seem to know when to let go, and Ginny's decision to do business with a man who has a shadowy connection to her past.
This book had a strange effect on me. I found the tenuous construction of the plot to be very difficult to keep track of. Many times it was confusing as to when in the specific time period action was taking place, or who the characters were in relation to one another. This was particularly so in the flashback portions of the book. The modern sections were more easily construed, but those sections had their difficulties as well. In particular, the way the back story was woven together was a little annoying. Instead of getting the full story at one time, the author chose to distribute the information in several bits, alternating between Jon and Ginny. Many of the secondary characters seemed to be underdeveloped and hazy as well, and I found most of the characters in this book to be very unlikable, especially Freddi. She seemed to have quite an attitude of self-importance, and her personality teetered between smugness and insecurity for most of the book. The male characters too were unsatisfying, as I found them to be unfeeling and somewhat uncommunicative. The only character that I felt any affinity for was Ginny; she seemed to be more expressive and her motives were more realistic. It is possible that the instances of infidelity were what turned me off in this book, but I rather think it was the way the situation was portrayed and the callousness of the characters that bothered me. Despite all this, I found that the story moved along with a great amount of force and direction, and I was compelled to keep reading. The author did a good job of maintaining the tension and urgency of the story despite the structural and character flaws. The ending was somewhat of a slow deflation of the story, and I think in some ways it worked, but in others it ways was anticlimactic. I am of two minds about the ending of this book because it gives the reader the opportunity to draw their own conclusions as to what happens next, but at the same time, after following the events leading up to the moment, it seems a bit of a cop-out for the resolution to be withheld.
All in all I found this book to be one I liked very much, and at the same time not at all. There was a lot going on structurally that I felt could have been done more evenly and efficiently, but at the same time there was a great driving force behind the narrative that kept me focused on the important elements of the story. I found that immediately after finishing the book I felt cold towards it, yet after a few days of thinking and digesting it, I liked it more. I would recommend this book with one caveat: this book needs to be appreciated as a whole, because the individual parts can be dissatisfying on their own.