Sunday, August 10, 2008

a review of "The Richest Season"

The Richest Season by Maryann McFadden

I find myself in a bit of a difficult position, one that I have not really faced before...reviewing a book that I really did not care for a great deal. When it comes to "The Richest Season", there is good news and there is bad news. Which shall I give you first? Hmmm...let's get the bad over first.

The book has three main characters. First, there are Paul and Joanna, a corporate couple living in NJ, rich and successful with a big, empty nest house and, it seems, very little communication between the two of them. They are living in NJ for the moment at least, because it seems his company is about to move them once again, a frequent occurrence in his rise to VP in the company. A state of affairs that turns out to be the straw that breaks the back of their relationship. When she finds out, Joanna decides she has had enough, packs her bags, leaves her husband a voice mail and takes off for Pawleys Island...because she liked it once when she drove through there on a family vacation. Good enough reason...good enough plan it seems!

Paul arrives home from his business trip and ...does nothing. Well, except moan and bitch to himself that there is no one to do the laundry, or pay the bills or do his shopping. She takes off without a word after 25 years of marriage, without an idea of what she will do and he hangs around waiting for his wife to come back and make him dinner. So problem number one. I don't like these people and I really had no sympathy for them. Their actions and inactions are so extreme that they seem unbelievable behaviors for people in their position.

Next we meet Grace, an elderly woman, with a secret, who hires Joanna to move into her beach house and help care for the house and for her. Grace too, in my mind, does not come across as a very likable person. When we find out her secret, we can understand her behavior to a degree...but only to a degree. How she deals with her situation, especially in regards to her family and to her ultimate action...well, I didn't like it, I didn't believe it and I think it contracted the very essence of the character as she was presented. It's almost as if we are missing some vital information about these people that would make what they do understandable.

Problem number two...I totally could not believe the transformation either Paul or Joanna undergo. But especially Paul, whose change could only be described as a miracle. A rather unbelievable miracle. From self centered husband, uninvolved father, work obsessed corporate VP to sensitive, caring father, neighbor and husband and jack of all trades. One day, he can't seem to understand that those bills that come in the mail need to be paid and a short time later he knows how to build stone walls and beautiful bookcases and renovate a house. He must have been watching the DIY Network and Dr. Phil a great deal while waiting for Joanna to come home.

OK...enough of the bad. You get it I think...didn't like the characters and didn't believe how they acted. But I did promise you some good news too, didn't I?

Well, I do think the book is quite well written. The shape that the story as a whole took is very nice and very readable and very nicely structured. The descriptions of Pawleys Island, the storm that becomes the climatic moment of the book, the turtle hatching which is a little subplot, the description of the beach house and the community are all very beautiful. The author made the reader want to visit that island, to stay in that house, to walk that beach. Ms. McFadden is a talented writer. So, bottom line, a rather pleasant, well written book but populated with characters not very likable or sympathetic and a story that seemed ultimately unbelievable.


  1. I hate it when the book is good but the characters are unlikeable and/or unbelievable. (Or worse, both at the same time.)

  2. you know, i have given this some thought. i don't have to 'like' the characters in a book. they can be flawed, they can have negative qualities, they can act stupidly...wait, i take that back..i hate characters that act

    but their behavior has to be understandable and i have to be able to identify with it in some way.

  3. Just curious...can I ask your age? The reason I ask is that we discussed this in a book club of women and men, mostly in their mid 30s and older, and everyone *loved* it. It absolutely rings true and the characters are very, very believable and well developed. I think, perhaps, unless you've experienced something similar to what Joanna and Paul went through -- which comes with years-- it's possible that that is the reason you could not relate to them.

  4. my age?!? you want to know my
    actually, i am 52. so, no, it's not that i don't have some experiences that might be in common with Paul and Joanne. but i don't think that i agree that is my problem with how these characters are presented. an author give us a character. everything we know about them is what the author tells us about them. but i think then, they, or rather the author, has to be true to what we know, what we have been told, to be consistent.

    in fact, i would argue that it should not be necessary to have that much in common with the characters of a book we read, beyond just shared general human experiences. to my mind, that is part of the 'point', if you will, of fiction. to present people and places and times and experiences beyond what we ourselves have actually experienced, and yet who we can identify with because they share those basic human truths...things like hope, love, fear, jealousy, curiosity...

    otherwise, we would just be reading about slightly different expressions of ourselves and our story.


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