I have to admit that I didn’t like this book very much, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of it had to do with the fact that I listened to this one on audio, and the narrator, David Colacci, just ruined the whole thing for me. He was nasally. He was monotone for most of the time and his voice showed no range when it came to expressing what I thought were serious emotions. I even played a snippet of this book in the car when my husband and I were running errands, and although he was intrigued by the story, he mentioned that the narrator was awful. I spent so much time glancing at how long I had left with this book that I wasn’t able to enjoy it very much at all. I think had I read it in print, this would have ended up being a very different review.
This book had an unexpected streak of humor, which is surprising given the subject matter. Puchner has a way of injecting humor into some very dark situations and it softens a lot of the tragedies that have befallen this particular family. Without these brief bits of humor, this book would have been about as bleak as bleak can be. There were times I snorted aloud at something that Puchner had intuited about his characters and the way that he shares it with his readers. When it comes right down to it, it was this dark and cynical humor that made me continue on with the book and not give it up in frustration. A lot of the situations that the family got themselves into were odd as well, and though at first I wondered if Puchner was substituting idiosyncratic elements for a solid and well written tale, I ultimately grew to appreciate the absurdness that was placed so liberally in this story.
One thing that really bothered me was the author’s willingness to be so cruel to his characters. For some reason, it’s always grieved me when an author thinks nothing of dumping the most distressing and horrible things onto these beings that he’s created and gives his characters no way out. I sort of felt that way with this book. Puchner spends a lot of time being cruel to his characters, and aside from the cynical comedy that’s peppered throughout the book, there’s not much in these situations to laugh at. I felt a little overwhelmed at all this family was going through and kept wondering when they would get a break. Something about the needless cruelty really got to me, and I can fully admit that it may have been the period of life I’m in right now and not the book itself. I can imagine that had I read this at a different time, I might have never given this aspect the consideration that I give it today.
When all is said and done, this isn’t a happy story, though it does have moments of dark humor. It’s not redemptive or hopeful, but it is very emotionally complex and it does tell a story that, like life, is unpredictable and slightly strange. I did admire the way Puchner harnessed his tale and kept all the elements tight and organic, but the combination of the horrendous narrator and the casual cruelty of the author to his characters makes me think that either I read this book at the wrong time or that I should have tried a different format. It was a difficult book for me to get through, and though there were some brilliant moments, I would have to recommend this one with caveats.