Thursday, February 12, 2009

Souls Raised from the Dead by Doris Betts

If this review were an episode of Sesame Street, it would be brought to you by the letter "I" - for Inappropriate.

Betts' story is that of a father, Frank, a cop dealing with his pre-teen daughter Mary Grace's serious illness; she is in need of a kidney transplant. Stepping into the ring with Frank for this battle are the father's prodigal wife and Mary Grace's mother, two sets of grandparents, the next door neighbor(s), oh yes - and Frank's two girlfriends.

To kick off this review, the more friendship than parent/child relationship between Frank and his daughter is off-putting; even more so is the way he picks up his daughter's horse-riding teacher while his daughter is being admitted to the hospital with a concussion.

Next, the connection between Jill (the horse-riding instructor) and Frank is too fast, especially given the circumstances, unless you want to play it off as Frank just needing a shoulder to cry on, thus taking on a variant of ill-advised sexual healing.

In fact, though admittedly I don't really know very much (anything at all) about the events and experiences surrounding the rapid decline of a child's health, everything in this novel feels either unrealistic or inappropriate or both. This includes everything from the meeting of the two opposing grandpas to father and daughter waiting, together, for father's date (the horse-riding instructor again this time) to get ready in her bathroom.

Speaking of the horse-riding instructor, Jill is inappropriately rough and demanding on a man who is watching his daughter go through a potentially (and ultimately) fatal disease.

As for Mary Grace's mother, she is a character in the worse sense - flat. Again, not realistic; she is more cruel than can believed.

Mary Grace, unfortunately, is unrealistic as well, with insights into her town and the social structure of her peers that seem too sophisticated. What is it lately with these higher-than-is-credible perceptions and vocabularies of kids and children in these novels (see recent previous reviews)?

Continuing on the theme of lack of realism (even if you are familiar with or subject to the theory of "suspension of disbelief" as a reader), events in the neighbor's apartment, one after the other, are too unlucky to believe, unless the main characters are just really living in a bad neighborhood (which isn't really made clear), which seems unlikely for a cop, even if he is a divorced single father. Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, though.

Finally, and I don't know if this is the publisher's problem or just some misprint, but question marks are used repeatedly and indiscriminately throughout the entire text - like, all the time, in almost every dialogue sequence, by multiple characters.

This isn't a terrible read (you could certainly do worse), but it isn't one of the best either, which is disappointing because Betts is a Southern author and I'm always rooting for and interested in reading those. - 3 stars

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