Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Book Review: Landfall by Ellen Urbani

You ever read a book at the wrong time? And you just know that if you'd read it at another time, you'd have liked it better? Sadly, that happened to me with this book. I had to read it for book club. And as I mentioned a few months back, I've been trying to avoid a reading slump. It's improving, but I am still mostly avoiding depressing books as those have been tough for me lately. And this book is about Hurricane Katrina. And a fatal car accident. And a nameless girl who is killed while another is orphaned. Not really cheery topics. But I love Ellen Urbani and I wanted to love the book! I should have waited for summer. I prefer my depressing reads in bright sunlight by the pool, so they don't get me down (and I prefer happy, light "summer beach reads" in winter when I could otherwise get depressed in the dark and cold.)

Rosy and her mother are in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward when Katrina hits. A friend nearby has a brick house where they think they can wait out the storm but as we all now know, that was a terrible idea. Rose and her mother see the news about Katrina and, several days later, are driving to make a donation for the hurricane victims when their lives cross with Rosy's in a devastating way. Rose then sets out on a quest for the truth and for the past which takes her across three states and she uncovers a story neither she nor Rosy had ever expected.

The descriptions of the hurricane and the flood itself were very visceral. They felt completely real in a horrible and immersive way. You really felt like you were there. But those parts were also, naturally, harder to read as it was such a wretched situation and so fraught with danger. Also Rosy's mother is bipolar and the stories about her again made me uncomfortable and sad. At first I didn't like Rose as much as she didn't have as much going on and therefore didn't come alive the way Rosy did. But as the book went on and the action shifted to being mostly from Rose's perspective, you got to see her also become a three-dimensional young woman, struggling with a difficult situation. The dual-perspectives worked very well as did the non-matching timeframes in a way I wouldn't have expected to work.

I had some minor issues with a few details that didn't feel correct for me, and I guessed the big twist pretty early on. If I hadn't had the issues with it being too depressing, this book would have benefited from a straight-read-through (or nearly so). Instead, I read it in small bits over nearly a week, which did not improve matters. It kept me distanced from the characters and therefore more critical and not as emotionally involved. But I really think that was due to where I was in my head when I was reading it, not the fault of the book itself. I don't want it to sound like I didn't enjoy it, because I did. But it was the wrong book at the wrong time for me, sadly.

I bought this book at Park Road Books.

1 comment:

Ellen Urbani said...

Carin,
I so empathize with your situation: the Oregon winters are so gloomy and tough for me, and I absolutely have to schedule my reading material to counterbalance the gray and cold and wet which would otherwise threaten to seep too deep into my soul at this time of year. I'm sorry you wound up having to read Landfall for your book club at a moment when you'd surely have been better served by someone like David Sedaris, for you're correct that there's no way a book about the aftermath of a hurricane -- particularly one that turned into the greatest environmental disaster in US history -- can come across as anything other than weighty.

Nonetheless, I appreciate you sticking with it and reviewing it so insightful and with such a healthy dose of honesty. Not all books can be right for all readers at every given moment. I just bought The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers by Josh Kilmer-Purcell in the hopes of lightening my mood in anticipation of spring, and am enjoying it thus far. As for your summer "I can handle depressing if my feet are in a pool" reading, I highly suggest Rene Denfeld's The Enchanted. Set on death row, it could easily be entirely depressing, but instead has threads of hope running throughout. I found it magical, if heavy.

Thanks again for giving Landfall a chance, Carin. And so you know: I love you back!
Ellen