Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review: The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud

The Sentimentalists: A Novel

Johanna Skibsrud's debut novel connects the flooding of an Ontario town, the Vietnam War, a trailer in North Dakota and an unfinished boat in Maine. Parsing family history, worn childhood memories, and the palimpsest of old misunderstandings, Skibsrud's narrator maps her father's past.

Napoleon Haskell lives with Henry in the town of Casablanca, Ontario, on the shores of a man-made lake beneath which lie the remains of the former town. Henry is the father of Napoleon's friend Owen, who died fighting in Vietnam. When her life comes apart, Napoleon's daughter retreats to Casablanca and is soon immersed in the complicated family stories that lurk below the surface of everyday life. With its quiet mullings and lines from Bogart, The Sentimentalists captures a daughter's wrestling with a heady family mythology
. -Summary taken from Goodreads

I related a lot to the characters in this book. I am also the daughter of a Vietnam vet. I'd always thought I'd heard most of dad's stories about the war growing up. As my dad's health is deteriorating, I've heard new stories, some he'd even forgotten or pushed out of his memory until now. So, when the narrator comes to live with her dad and his friend and he begins telling her his story of what happened in Vietnam to his friend, Owen, it was something I related to in a way.

I wanted to really like this book. However, the writing got in my way. Don't get me wrong, it's not bad or anything like that. It's very lyrical and quite poetic in places but I had a hard time following it. I spent much of the book, not quite sure what was going on. The time frame jumps back and forth and it took me awhile to figure out which decade we were in only to have it change again.I read a review on Goodreads that mentioned that it sounded like it was being narrated by Captain Kirk. That's exactly how I felt about it. It was sort of disjointed and the sentence structure was downright confusing sometimes. If I have to go back and re-read just to understand what's being said, it pulls me out of the story.

Overall, I liked the premise and the story that lay at the heart of the book. I just had a hard time getting there.

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