Friday, November 27, 2009

Evening News

Evening News by Marly A. Swick
Hardcover, 356 pages
Little, Brown & Company, 1999
ISBN-13: 9780316825337
contemporary fiction

Nine year-old Teddy is playing next door with his best friend when Eric pulls out his father's handgun and hands it to Teddy. The telephone rings; the gun goes off, shooting — and killing — Teddy's two-year-old half sister Trina, who was playing in a wading pool in the yard outside, with Giselle, their mother, by her side...
Told alternately from the point of view of Giselle and Teddy himself, Evening News is a beautifully accomplished novel about resilience in the face of loss — and about the irrevocable damage that both the loss and the resilience can inflict.
My Thoughts:

In Evening News the story is told from alternating points of view between Giselle, the mother and Teddy, the son.The distinction between voices is clear, especially since the print in Teddy's chapters is italicized. This is a hard one to review. To be honest, after a strong beginning the storyline of the novel went downhill. I felt Swick is a good writer, technically, but I found her characters unbelievable and truly unlikable. I don't think she intended for them, especially Giselle, to be unlikable. It also felt like the plot was meandering along rather than being written with a purpose in mind. Alternately I could see it being written as a made for TV movie.
Recommended as an easy read of a serious subject matter


His sister, Trina, is sitting in her plastic wading pool, bright blue with purple whales stamped on it. She looks like a butterball turkey, splashing around in her diapers and pink rubber pants, banging her plastic shovel, trying to get his mom's attention. His mom, as usual, is reading a book, furiously underlining with a yellow Magic Marker. opening

"It's a .38 caliber," Eric announces as he slides the gun from the back of the drawer, where his mother hid it in a Kleenex box. The gun is silver and black, smaller even than a squirt gun. Eric whirls around, squatting and squinting, taking aim at various targets the way cops do on TV: the china figurine on the vanity table, his parents' wedding photograph on the wall, the dog digging in the yard. pg. 5

Then suddenly the phone on the nightstand explodes, loud and shrill, startling him, and at the same time Eric grabs for the gun, panicked that his mother will come upstairs.

His sister splashes onto her butt in the water. At first Teddy thinks she has just lost her balance as usual. Then his mother screams. The dog starts barking. pg. 5

His mother is sitting in the wading pool, cradling his little sister, saying her name over and over. The water is turning pink, like Easter egg dye. Eric's mother runs out onto the back porch and hollers that the paramedics are on their way. His sister's eyes are open, the eyelids trembling. He squats in the soggy grass next to the pool and starts making all the funny faces in his repertoire, sticking out his tongue and rolling his eyes into his head and stretching his lips, trying to make her laugh. Even though it is hot and bright out, he is shivering. His mother has the wadded-up beach towel pressed against Trina's chest, but you can still see the blood. pg. 6

On the mostly silent, stunned drive home from the hospital, the accident was all that Dan wanted to talk about, the logistics of it. Why? How? Who? Giselle kept shaking her head and mumbling, "I don't know." pg. 7

Just as Teddy wasn't really Dan's child. He hadn't even asked about Teddy. Her son. He was only concerned about their daughter. And who could blame him? pg. 8

Your daughter is dead, she told herself. What do you do now? This was a subject none of the parenting books addressed. pg. 12

Trina's absence was like a crown of thorns encircling her heart. Each breath seemed to stab her in a fresh tender spot. pg. 103

Now this isn't part of the official review, but it certainly colored my feelings toward the book. Apparently other reviewers also found hints of prejudice in Ms. Swick's writing, interestingly enough toward Californians and overweight people. While I noticed a few snide remarks about Californians, and I certainly wondered why the unlikable store clerk and the two girls who vacated the apartment had to be described as overweight in a very negative way, my problems were with how she described Nebraskans. She lived in the state and yet seems to hate the people there. For example, she wrote: "Nebraska, the Aryan nation" and "latter-day Vikings" (pg. 198) and "They [Nebraskans] had never heard of radon or attention deficit disorder." (pg. 216). Excuse me, but I lived in various cities in Nebraska while growing up in the 60's and early 70's. Sure there were a lot of people with Northern European ancestry, but, hello, there are and were many other people of various ancestries (and colors) in Nebraska too, especially in Omaha and Lincoln. And yes, even w-a-y back when I was growing up there. The Aryan nation remark was totally uncalled for. Oh, and guess what? They know about radon and attention deficit disorder too. They know how to read and watch the news. What is wrong with Ms. Swick that she doesn't think they did? In fact, I think most of the people who began testing homes for radon were in the Midwest. I certainly remember when it hit the news. The other quibble I had was playing loose with facts. If you are going to set a book in a specific place, please do your research and accurately portray the area. Swick wrote "Hallmark outside of Lawrence KS" (pg. 212) and I can tell you that the Hallmark corporation is in Kansas City, Missouri, (think Crown Center, Swick) which, I suppose is technically outside of Lawrence, Kansas, but most people would describe it as the other way around. ( There is a production center for Hallmark in Lawrence.)
If the book had been better it would be much easier to ignore these minor annoyances.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I can't even read reviews of books like this, let alone the book itself. My brain just shuts down when it consider this, which I can't even type into a comment!!