It’s banned books week so I know there are lots of fictional stories that have been deemed controversial that people are reading and celebrating during this period because they represent a thread of the society that should be examined and discussed for its significance even if it makes us comfortable to acknowledge their realness. But how do you feel about books being banned? Should we censor literature? Or does everyone have a right to publish the stories they come up with, regardless of what they portray?
Earlier this week, I decided to review the list of Advance Reader Copies that I’ve received in order to review and I came upon this one that I got several months ago but never read. I decided to check it out and finally submit my thoughts.
Things That Happened Before The Earthquake is supposed to be a coming-of-age novel, chronicling the experiences of an Italian teenage girl named Eugenia, who moves from Sicily to Los Angeles in the 1990s, right after the riots stemming from the killing of Rodney King. Her father is a filmmaker and thinks his family can make it big in Hollywood’s movie culture, but their experiences reflect a vast wasteland of negatives – Eugenia’s public high school is gang turf, her parents star connections are with people almost as low on the social totem poles as they are and the extent of their assimilation is to embrace the cheap, plastic goods found in abundance in 99-cent stores. So Eugenia develops a relationship with the Virgin Mary who she appeals to for the maternal intervention that she lacks in her home life since neither her mother or her mother’s mother display the characteristics she so desperately craves and both are too busy baring their naked bodies to realize how much Eugenia is concealing.
The novel is written like a movie script being shot with a single-lens camera, moving focus from one scene to another, as the author who serves as casting director introduces a myriad of characters who appear, acts in one scene and exits stage left just as quickly. While they are in the limelight, the audience is asked to focus on the actors’ physical attributes as if this is the only way to know them. This reel-style narrative doesn’t give much time for character development, and even family roles like that of Eugenia’s brother, Timoteo, feel like they are played by extras.
The writing is unconventional and thus offers some intrigue. The formulaic immigrant story wrapped up in a multigenerational family saga, the comparison between the real life mother and grandmother and the girls dream relationship with the Virgin Mary, both of which bring disappointment, all added a layer of interest.
The author cleverly used the time setting and plot conflicts to effectively reflect both American politics and Italy’s history of fascism.
The narrative is rife with profane language and graphic descriptions that seems to have been written for shock value rather than entertainment. Familial relationships are all inappropriate in some way, falling somewhere on the spectrum between incest and physical abuse, and behavior that was described as Bohemian and artsy is really statutory rape.
I had issues with how characters were introduced, described only in terms of their appearance. While I appreciate that this writing could be a satiric look at the appearance-based movie culture, it gave the book a superficial tone.
Rating: 2 stars
I didn’t finish this book. I got to a certain point and realized I didn’t want to read any more. Since I was reading electronically, I’m uncertain how many pages I read before I marked it DNF. I am not saying this book should be banned but just because it’s available, doesn’t mean I want to read it.
Updated: I don’t think I am the target reader for this kind of novel and I thought about abandoning the story after the first section but I read to the end because I wanted to see whether the tone would change. It didn’t. Extraneous characters kept cycling back and readers were treated to new manifestations of relationships but the overall themes remained constant so when the earthquake finally happened, what was supposed to be a huge climax, felt like a welcome end.
If you’ve read Things That Happened Before The Earthquake, I’d love to hear your feedback too.
I received a free electronic download from Netgalley in order to complete this review but this did not influence my opinion of the book.