37. DOLLBABY, BY LAURA LANE MCNEAL
I really wanted to like this book. When I read the blurb, I saw it was a coming-of-age story about a girl living in New Orleans during the Civil Rights protests, and I wanted SO BAD for it to be good. Alas, it wasn’t.
Synopsis: When her father dies, Ibby’s mother abandons her with Fanny, an eccentric grandmother who suffers psychotic episodes. She grows up under the influence of Queenie, the black cook, Dollbaby, her daughter, and Fanny herself.
Overall enjoyment: Ugh. It was SO badly written. It was painful to read, and more than once made me consider ignoring the “read every book all the way through” rule for the reading challenge. It’s a pity, since it’s a subject that very much interests me, but it was awfully executed. It’s not very long, but it took me almost a week to finish. I just did not want to go back to it. The biggest enjoyment this book offered me was when I finally finished it and could move on to the next one.
Plot: It’s truncated, poorly foreshadowed, does not flow, and the big plot twists, with the family secrets, are obvious and just plain boring. The story takes turns that are completely baffling for lack of foreshadowing. The flashbacks are almost nonsensical in their placement and telling. What there is of story is a collection of cliches pasted together with descriptions of New Orleans in the 60s. A general question: why are breech labors such a cliche in historical fiction? For the amount of times I’ve read it in books and seen it in films, I’d half expect people to be surprised when a labor isn’t troublesome (like it happens about 98% of the time in real life).
Characters: They’re the same character, with one or two stereotypical details to try and differentiate. Horribly inconsistent. There is no character development other than aging, and even that is badly done, told to the reader by mentioning their ages.
World/setting: There is so much of it. This was probably what she wanted to do, describe New Orleans during this time, but she dedicates so much to describing the food, and costumes, and folklore, and architecture, and how people act... She often loses track of what she was telling before her descriptions. And really, it’s just plain boring after a while. I could just have read a non-fiction book about New Orleans in the 60s, if that’s what I was interested in.
Writing style: Truncated, difficult to follow for all the convolutions. All telling, no showing. No foreshadowing, no suspense, no drama. Even the most dramatic moments of the story are spoiled by the writing.
Representation: It does have many black characters, and almost all of the main characters are women. Still, it fell short, in my opinion. This book was marketed as offering a portrait of the Civil Rights protests in the South during the 60s, but there’s almost none of it. She only mentions it, in passing, once or twice, and then completely abandons that angle.
Political correctness: She tries to convince the readers that Fannie was a saint because she was nice to Queenie and Dollbaby, in spite of the fact that they were black. Ugh. She uses rape as a plot device. Double ugh. She uses false accusation of rape as a plot device. UUUUGGGHHHH. Actually, the whole part with Annabelle is so shady and twisted: you’re obviously supposed to think Annabelle is a bitch because she’s fat and ugly and rich and a slut and racist. She doesn’t even try to show any motivation behind Annabelle’s actions, other than say her father left her mother because she was fucking a black guy (and afterwards, when Annabelle starts fucking black guys, they say “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”). When Annabelle falsely accuses T-Bone of rape, she is bruised and beaten, can’t stand to be touched, and is visibly shaken; she obviously WAS raped, just not by T-Bone. Ibby is often portrayed as been incredibly insightful regarding other people’s feelings, but as soon as she gets Annabelle to drop the charges, she just leaves her without trying to comfort her or help her accuse whoever did rape her. Honestly, though, I was past caring at this point. This whole book was a mess, a little bit more hardly made any difference.
Up next: When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan