Monday, December 21, 2009

The Cost of Dreams by Gary Stelzer - 296 pgs

Book CoverAfter a treacherous border crossing from Mexico with her younger siblings, Flora Enriquez starts a new life in Texas and slowly begins to realize the American dream. Soon Flora is living life as a mother, wife and teacher, but fate has other plans for her. These unexpected plans arrive in the form of Roy, Flora's violent, drug dealing brother-in-law, who comes to chase her down with a gun after she destroys a stash of drugs he has hidden in her home. After shooting her and leaving her for dead in the Texas desert, Flora is whisked away by a group of well meaning refugees to begin a grueling trek across the country that will test her in ways she never expected possible. This harrowing debut novel witnesses Flora's extreme struggle, first for her survival, then to rebuild her shattered life and family.

Though the premise of this book really intrigued and excited me, I ultimately ended up feeling a little disappointed by it. At times I felt that the practicalities of the story were not very realistic or believable and I really had a hard time engaging with the characters. First off, I felt that the sections that took place after Flora's accident didn't seem at all plausible. After being shot at close range in the neck, I had a hard time believing that she was able to survive the incredible trek across country in the back of a rail car before receiving medical treatment. Even someone who is not well versed in medicine, like me, knows that the first few hours after a spinal injury are critical to a patient, and that I felt that the author, who is also a doctor, should have known this as well. I just didn't believe that Flora would have survived these events, much less eventually make a full recovery.

Another thing that bothered me about this book was the fact that the characters' personalities were not finely delineated at all. I never felt that they were real people with distinct personalities. It felt too much like they were artificial constructs, characters made for the sole purpose of acting out the events in the story. They seemed very cardboard and stiff, and even in their dialogue they had no spark or life. As I was reading through the narrative, I kept wishing that the author would do something to make his characters more memorable and human but that never came to pass. There was a huge dearth of individuality in these people that made it really hard for me to care about them, which ultimately kept me from connecting with their story.

The writing style was also something that I took exception to. The story felt very forced and rushed and there wasn't a natural cadence to the narrative. It was more like a set of events that kept relentlessly moving forward, one event after the next, with no pause for meaning or insight. Though I did find the nuts and bolts of the story to be very engaging and interesting, I felt that the intended impact of the story suffered a bit in the execution. There was a lot going on plot-wise and some of the plot elements were honed perfectly, but those points were not left to percolate or absorb gravity. Instead they were smashed between other high-impact plot points, which gave the book an overwhelming feel of haste.

Though I had some problems with this book stylistically, I felt that there were some really exciting aspects of the story. One of the things I particularly liked was that it didn't rely too heavily on coincidence. Most of the plot felt very natural, and despite the reactions I had to the circumstances surrounding Flora's injury, I felt that her recovery and the emotions she had surrounding it were very genuine and heartfelt. I also thought that the book had a lot of suspenseful moments, which gave the story and writing a stirring quality that I had not been expecting. As a matter of fact, I think that this book would probably make a great read for those who enjoy the suspense genre and are looking for something a bit atypical. It was definitely a very thought-provoking read.

Readers may want to visit the author's website.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


bermudaonion said...

It sounds like the book has a good premise, but it wasn't edited as well as it could have been. Too bad.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Sorry this book did not live up to your expectations :(

Sandy Nawrot said...

Despite all our attempts at picking good books for ourselves, we get hold of one of these. Try as much as you like, but you just can't love 'em. Still, you've done a great job summarizing it, and backing up your opinions.

Suko said...

At least you found the book thought-provoking. Thanks for your well-written and honest review.

Aarti said...

Oh, no! Seems like you've just not been reading many good ones lately at all! I'm going to cross my fingers that you read FABULOUS books in 2010 :-)

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Just wanted to stop by to say Happy Holidays to you an yours. Thanks for being a loyal blogging buddy.

Melissa said...

The premise of this one does sound interesting, but like you, I would find the cross country trek with a gunshot wound a bit far fetched.

Thanks for seconding the Great Expectations recommendation. It's one I will have to get to in 2010!

Ana S. said...

This has an interesting premise, and by the sound of it, some redeeming features too, but bad characterization automatically loses me :\

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