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2017 Reading Challenge

Jill Elizabeth has read 2 books toward her goal of 150 books.
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Book Review: The Infinite Now by Mindy Tarquini

“The future was too large to fathom, the past too heavy to bear, the present always there and infinite, and none of it had any answers.”

If only this book hadn’t tried to be so many things…

The author is clearly very talented. There were many points in the book where I had to reread the sentences uttered by her characters aloud, because they were so graceful and poignant and spot-on. Unfortunately, those were matched by the sentences I had to reread because I either couldn’t believe they were made or because I had no idea why they were there/what they meant…

This is a story about the “Spanish” influenza pandemic of 1918-19. And about magic. And about immigrants in early twentieth century Philadelphia. And about family. And about women’s rights. And about fear. And about love. And about… That’s the problem I had with it, in a nutshell: keeping all the bits going was a struggle, and the narrative flailed around a number of times because it kept trying to do so. I almost put the book down and didn’t pick it back up at least five times – yet something made me persevere to the end. I don’t know if I’m glad I did – on one hand, yes, because there are glimmers of gorgeous storytelling scattered throughout. On the other, not so much, because I was, in alternating stages, depressed, frustrated, irritated, and worn down by the travails of Fiora (most, if not all, of which were entirely of her making).

I think the book needed a heavier-handed editor, to sharpen the story by keeping it to a smaller number of story lines. The flu and concomitant fears about Fiora were fascinating by themselves. As the author points out in her end notes, more people were killed by the flu in 1918-19 than were killed in the ENTIRE first World War… And this in a time without much understanding of epidemiology, virology, or contagion control. The fear and paranoia and confusion were haunting and comprised much of what I most liked about the book.

I also liked the concept of the magic – the guaritrice, the curtain, the bubble – but think that it suffered in its execution. I found the bubble to be the best explained of the three – and that’s not saying much, because it basically appears, shifts, and disappears without much more explanation than that, despite this being the part of the book emphasized in the blurb… The curtain was, frankly, confusing – both as image and metaphor. Conceptually I understand it, but its presentation in the story felt uneven and unnecessarily confusing. The guaritrice was another fascinating construct, but one that got overwhelmed at times by the multiplicity of things going on with and around her.

And the characters… They were uneven to say the least. The ones I quite liked the most – the old man, Carlo, Benedetta – were interesting and colorful (although Carlo’s personal revelation felt very random and tacked on, particularly given the ending – sorry, can’t say more for spoilers, so apologize for the oblique comment). Fiora was infuriating for much of the story – a child, then a woman aged before her time, then at odd moments childlike again. I appreciate that she was thrown into a situation she was utterly unprepared for, but I found her character arc dissatisfying and felt either ambivalent or outright hostile to her quite often… And her unintentionally self-revelatory moment felt as random as Carlo’s, again primarily because of the ending. Incidentally, without the tidy and rather false-feeling “resolution” of those revelations at the end, incidentally, their personalities, actions, and interactions would have made MUCH more sense and made much of the earlier story tie together nicer, in my humble opinion…

Confused? Find my review to be a jumble of interrelated but not entirely coherent thoughts and comments? That’s largely how I felt while reading. There was some truly great stuff here, but it was mired in a lot that felt random and overly (and unnecessarily) convoluted and over-explained (despite there being vast swaths that also felt rather unfortunately under-explained). The cover is a great exemplar of how I often felt while reading: things were upside down and a little unfocused, like images in the curtain, but there was a delicate, promising beauty there, if I could only focus on it just right… Still, I admire the effort at bringing so many pieces together into a whole, and would give the author another chance – although she’ll have to grab AND hold me much earlier on next time, because I wouldn’t expend this much effort trying to make my way through again…

My review copy was provided by NetGalley.

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