Tuesday, March 03, 2015
We Are Called to Rise
I only wish I liked the book more. It's good, but a bit precious, with an ending that's manipulative and far-fetched. And though it's set in Vegas, and written by a woman who lives and grew up in Vegas, in could have been set anywhere, except for a few passages that get to the core of the place, like this one: "I like Las Vegas best early in the morning, when the valley stretches out peacefully below a blue sky, when the knife-edged hills that surround are pleated with the shadows of sideways slicing sun, where a great quiet sits softly over the tiled roofs, the disheveled cottonwood, the miles of empty roads."
Ostensibly, this book is about the war in Iraq, and how it affects two different men. There are four characters narrating the book: Luis, a soldier who, after a traumatic incident, tries to kill himself; Avis, a middle-aged woman who is recently divorced and the mother of a son just back from Iraq; Bashkim, the eight-year-old son of Albanian immigrants who operate an ice cream truck; and Ruth, who volunteers for a child welfare agency. They will all come together in one blindingly horrific incident.
To McBride's credit, that incident comes out of nowhere, but is also inevitable, and I realized only what was happening words ahead of it occurring (a bad writer would foreshadow so intensively that it's not a surprise). But I found the denouement a bit under-cooked. I admire her sense of optimism, but I couldn't swallow what happened.
There are so many books and movies about PTSD that this one seemed to have nothing new to say. There are interesting moments between Luis and his psychologist, and the character of Avis, who is the most fully developed in the book, could have stood a book all her own. In the opening chapter, she is nosing around her lingerie drawer, naked, and finds a gun. It is at that moment that her husband tells her he's in love with another woman. She says, "I grew up, the bastard child of a dirt-poor mother, in downtown Las Vegas. I raised my son in town nicknamed Sin City, in a place most American families wouldn't dream of bringing their children, in a state where prostitution is legal and gambling is sacrosanct."
When McBride hits on these moments, describing the Las Vegas that tourists never see, I felt an exhilaration. I just found the plot that drove the narrative a little wanting.