Monday, August 2, 2010

This Must Be the Place

Henry Holt recently sent me a reviewer's copy of Kate Racculia's first novel, This Must Be the Place. I always want to like a new novel, not only because I'm making a commitment to finish it (this one clocks in at 350 pages). In many ways, this one shows great promise. The narrative proceeds at a steady clip and she juggles many characters seemingly effortlessly. This aspect of the novel reminded me of Richard Russo. The writing of the high school student characters seems truthful enough, though I didn't find any of them particularly engaging. The metaphor of Harry Hausen's films is certainly a fertile one.
Unfortunately, there are some choices that Racculia made that I found very off-putting. First, she invokes a wide variety of popular music, but almost never of the period she's writing in. Instead of setting us firmly in a certain year or era, she wedges it into a different one, with confusing effect.
Second, there is a preponderance of what my writer friend Vincent Brown refers to as "co-inky-dinks." There are so many coincidences, layered over one another, if Racculia had pushed it anymore this would be a post-modern, ironic comic novel (and I think all the better for it). The most egregious example of this is an art forger, the father of one of the high school boys. Astor is a security guard in a town (Ruby Falls, where most of the novel takes place) outside of Syracuse, New York. He has successfully forged works of Warhol, Basquiat, Chuck Close, Dali, Balthus, Gaugin, Magritte and Munch. At this point, my much-stretched credulity snapped. Racculia then goes on to have Astor's pal Terry pick up a suitcase full of Joseph Cornell's ephemera for creating his boxes at a yard sale. At the end of the novel, Oneida, now grown, finds the fake Cornell box that she helped to assemble in the house of her art history professor. One hopes that Racculia will profit from her over-reaching, and go on to write again.

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