Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Review of the Day: Abbeville



Abbeville is a short, well-written novel built on a solid structure, but it should be twice as long to do justice to the story John Fuller attempts. The book tells the parallel stories of the narrator’s attempt to rebuild his life after the bursting of the dot-com bubble and his grandfather’s own boom and bust struggle in the Great Depression.

The grandfather’s story predominates and involves several complex subplots. The central theme to the story is the conflict between the grandfather’s desire to succeed and his perceived duty to help people. This themes plays out primarily in the relationship between the grandfather and his younger brother, whose wastrel ways result in the grandfather’s financial and social downfall.

Unfortunately, there is not enough flesh on the bones. Both the plot and the characters are too sparsely drawn to make them compelling. For example, the key act that culminates in the grandfather’s ruin is described so cryptically, in just one brief sentence, that the reader must speculate about why what happened happened. At least one key storyline just ends with no explanation other than that people often disappeared during the Great Depression. Other story lines simply fizzle out.

Without details, the characters and their relationships are flat and stiff. The tension between the brothers is described so sparingly that it is difficult to fully understand the relationship, let alone to care about it. The grandfather comes off as less a noble man sacrificing for his internal sense of honor as an unsympathetic, thick headed martyr. The narrator never rises above a character sketch of a concerned but clueless father.

It could be that Fuller was trying for a style as strong, clean, and minimalist as his rural Michigan setting. But the result reads more like an outline than a finished novel.


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