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The Turning by Francine Prose

I went to Barnes & Noble recently to buy a copy of The Fault in Our Stars for a school friend, and I decided to spend a bit of time browsing.  I wanted something new to read--I've not read anything besides fanfiction since the start of this past summer, and it was time to read an actual book--and decided on The Turning by Francine Prose.  I recognized the author's name, but only placed it when I returned home and Googled, discovering that Prose wrote After, a book I read back in 2008.  I remembred only half-liking After, but decided to read The Turning anyway.

The epistolary novel opens with Jack writing a letter to his girlfriend Sophie from the ferry that will take him to his summer job.  For the next two months, Jack will be looking after two children who live on a secluded island with no internet, no phone reception, and no television.  He's optimistic about the summer, if only because it's his one chance to raise enough money to attend college with Sophine once they're out of high school.

Once on the island, however, Jack's letters are filled with the strangeness of the house and the children there.  He speaks of unspoken secrets, of eerie dreams, of locked rooms and faces peering through windows.  And as his letters become more erratic and his days stranger, he's left to wonder: what secrets does this island keep, and what horrors is he about to discover?

When I read after a few years ago, I accused Prose of "rush to the finish disease," a pacing ailment I find in a lot of fiction.  I'm always frustrated when a book speeds into the resolution willy-nilly; it's a bit like racing between trees on a four-wheeler, no path in sight, until you're clotheslined by an unexpected branch.  The Turning suffers from the same problem.  The first half of the book is intensely atmospheric, addicting in its relentless spookiness.  More than once this afternoon, I glanced around my apartment  just to ensure I was alone with my cats.  But about 60 pages from the end, the pace picks up in a way that completely shatters the atmosphere and mystery of the book.  I knew, more or less, what the resolution would be at that point, and the mystery ceased to be anything but tedious.

Worse, there was a quiet "moral of the story" embedded in the resolution, where Jack writes to either Sophie or his father (I don't remember which) about how teenagers don't do well with unstructured time, and how he would've benefited from a schedule while working on the island.  Uhm, what?  It was incredibly frustrating to read that nugget in what had, until about page 180, been a pretty entertaining read.

I liked the characters, for the most part--the cook and the two children, at least.  I liked Jack a lot at the beginning, too, but as time went on I found him ridiculous and overblown.  Which I suppose was a characterization choice of Prose's, but it was really hard to sympathize with him after that . . . or, in a lot of ways, to buy into the creepy events happening around him.  As his letters to Sophie began to read more and more like Fanfiction.net author notes--COMMENT OR I WON'T CONTINUE THE STORY--I began to wonder whether he was making everything up.

In the end, that might've been a more rewarding resolution than the one we got.

My first book in something like seven months, and I'm actually quite disappointed.  Hopefully this will spur me on to read something better.


the forest-dweller

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