Sunday, February 18, 2007

Book Review: It Might Have Been What He Said

Author: Eden Collinsworth
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
ISBN: 1-55970-812-3

Isabel tried to kill her husband, but she can’t remember why. With the help of her psychiatrist, Isabel slowly restores her memory of the events surrounding the attempted murder. They begin by examining Isabel’s childhood.

Isabel was born into a wealthy, dysfunctional family. Her father was emotionally distant. He refused to give his adult children any financial assistance for fear of instilling laziness. Her mother was mentally disturbed. She tried to kill herself and spent much of her life in an asylum. Her brother was socially dull. He depended on his younger sister to guide him through the maze of family interactions. It seems that Isabel, with her photographic memory, intellectual aptitude, interpersonal insight, acerbic wit and cool demeanor, is the only normal person in the lot.

Ambitious and conscientious, Isabel swiftly rises to the top of her profession as a publisher. She meets her opposite in James, a talented, debonair, indolent writer whose primary interest in life is being (carefully distinguished from getting, which requires effort) rich. Opposites attract and Isabel marries James. Their marriage starts happily enough, but cracks gradually appear beneath the veneer of their relationship. James is the source of all the cracks: he spends irresponsibly, works intermittently and drinks excessively. In contrast, Isabel’s determined efforts to hold together her marriage and family are almost saintly.

Isabel and James have an unusual son. Burgo is intellectually gifted, socially astute and the devoted son for which all mothers wish. An elementary school child who should still believe in Santa Claus (but does not), Burgo tells his mother, “you are fact, Papi [Daddy] is fiction” (p. 182). Despite his youth, Burgo realizes that his mother is the family bedrock, his father the quagmire. Surprisingly, this circumstance does not alarm him. Surely he is the most placid child ever to grace the face of the earth. After Isabel’s botched murder and her marriage’s dissolution, the story ends with James ensnared in a trap of his own making while Isabel and Burgo dash into a promising future.

The greatest weakness of this story is its characters. Burgo does not resemble any child in the known universe. Instead, he resembles Wesley Crusher, the nauseating boy wonder from Star Trek. James is so unremittingly boorish it’s impossible to conceive what, aside from his good looks, attracts Isabel to him. And Isabel’s solitary flaw seems to be her bad temper, which is displayed only once throughout the entire book. None of the characters have any depth or complexity; they are all neatly categorized as either heroes or villains.

The second weakness of this story is the anti-climactic nature of its climax. Building gradually to its apex, the actual culminating event is comically clumsy. Moreover, the event’s aftermath is hardly credible. James conspires with Isabel to pretend it never happened and they resume their ordinary lives. When the marriage eventually dissolves, it is James the would-be murder victim, rather than Isabel the failed murderess, who is to blame. This is not surprising. After all, the characters in this book either wear white hats or black ones. Gray hats don’t exist in their world.

It Might Have Been What He Said is Collinsworth’s first novel. She writes concisely and the story moves at a fairly good pace. Moreover, her initial premise forms an intriguing skeleton upon which to build a captivating story. Unfortunately, neither the characters nor the plot provide the flesh and bones required to make this book a full-blooded body. Overall, this is a decent, but not great, first novel. If Collinsworth learns from the experience gained with this book, she may prove to be a writer worth watching in the future.

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