Review: A Lovely, Indecent Departure, has a well-crafted plot line and is written in a bold prose that leaves little room for frill. The sentences were often active and called for my attention. It was the different style of writing that drew me into this story. Listen to the first three lines.
“Look there comes the girl. She is treading alone up the sidewalk. Looking like anyone else of the noontime crowd blissfully strolling the strip mall. But she is not one of them, and never has been.”
Nothing strikes me as passive in those three lines, but it’s more than that it’s the sense of mystery right out of the ordinary. Right away, I know this story could be extraordinary and the reader in me pushes past those three lines because I want to know who this woman is and why she will never be one of them. The woman turns out to be Anna, and she takes her son away from his father, a man who turns out to be mean-spirited. It turns out she has plenty of reasons for doing this, but the way the story unfolds in the perspectives of Evan, the father, the sheriff, Monroe and Anna it becomes fragmented through the different characters. And there is the lacking detail in the prose which I can only describe as writer, Ernest Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory. The theory basically means that writing should be evident from the surface story because the real meaning is below.
So, I think if Gilbert was operating along the lines of this principle it might make sense because by the time I got to the end of this story there lacked a certain understanding of Anna, that I desperately wanted to get. And the chill factor in the Hemingway theory wasn’t going to get me there. I do know that I was looking for what kind of desperation does it take inside a person to steal one’s child from another parent and Anna was written in such a way that I was never able to dive into her soul. Let me provide an example from another book I just finished reading. Look at the next two passages.
The first is from a novel called Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery by John Gregory Brown. It’s told from three perspectives and it has a great deal of mystery. This particular passage is told from a wife about her former husband. She’s talking to her step-daughter, Meredith.
“There are women who make much worse choices than the ones I made who don’t pay that kind of price. In your short life you’ve lost a mother twice, Meredith, and maybe that’s as bad as what I feel. I’m sure it is. But I can’t help being angry at you for letting your father do this. Lord knows that even in your quiet way, you’ve got more sway with him than a wrecking ball on a house of straw. Didn’t you think to tell him that you just wouldn’t go?”
Now, look at how the prose is stripped in A Lovely, Indecent Departure and how the emotion and depth feels missing.
“Oliver watched them. Are we poor? He asked.
She looked at him. Do you feel poor?
He shrugged. I don’t know. What does it feel like?
Like you have very little to be happy about.
Oliver thought about it. He picked at some dried glue on the lantern. Did you ever feel that way? He asked.
Not now I don’t, she said.
Not so long ago.”
But, Anna doesn’t explain to Oliver when she felt poor. The reader is just supposed to get it. In Brown’s book there is a lot of mystery, but eventually it unravels and the characters choose to feel a certain way with the circumstances given to them. It’s very clear how the speaker feels in the first passage, but Anna is not forthcoming in her dialogue to Oliver. I found this frustrating and when I went back and read the summary I realized Gilbert is looking for answers to a large extent from the reader - what would you do? Okay, let me digress for a minute much of my opinion is I like fully fleshed out characters and Gilbert’s writing style didn’t really allow for it. With the exception of Monroe, the characters were borderline flat and so, it was a trade off I suppose.
Monroe, the sheriff, had a painterly feel to him, but he was no Picasso. I would place him with the Impressionists and then stand five feet back from his portraiture. I found myself indifferent to him, and because he became a key element in the ending of the story, I found myself indifferent towards the ending. Overall, I would recommend this book simply because my opinion is subjective, and this is a book that is written in simple prose and done well.
(reviewed 23 days after purchase)