23 Jul / The Whole World Over by Julia Glass
This was my last of the Julia Glass novels, having read them out of published order. Glass’ first title, Three Junes, and her latest, The Widower’s Tale, undoubtedly make up the better half of her oeuvre. I See You Everywhere and Whole World land on the other end of her spectrum.
World focuses on two intertwined main stories: the disintegration of the marriage of pastry chef Greenie and her psychotherapist husband Alan; and the fragile attempts at recovering something akin to a ‘normal’ life for a lost young woman named Saga (née Emily) after a debilitating accident. Both stories share an overlapping, vast array of supporting characters, including Fenno McLeod from Three Junes.
Digression: I listened to World, voiced by audible veteran Ann Marie Lee. As thrilled as I was to meet Fenno again, his thick, annoyingly fake Irish brogue as voiced by Lee was constantly jarring; Fenno is originally from Scotland, although he’s been a New Yorker for over two decades. Lee seems to have a reputation in the audible world for off-kilter accents – one recorded books reviewer wondered how her understanding of a certain title was affected by her initial assumption of a southern cast of characters thanks to Lee’s performance, which the reviewer realized chapters later was an overdone New England drawl. ACK!
But back to World … Glass’ complicated plot blends and binds diverse characters of multiple backgrounds and histories, although with various excuses, too many of them find commitment too hard a challenge. The bed-hopping followed by the requisite agony quickly grows tedious to the point that even eye-rolling is not enough.
But alas, the complaints don’t stop there: the biggest disappointments – so unexpected from a writer as lauded as Glass (she won the National Book Award with her very first title!) – border on racism. Here are two examples: 1. two teenage girls make crank calls, “‘Mr. Woo, is that your rickshaw double-parked outside the IHOP?'”; 2. Saga likens the fog lifting to “…an image of three Japanese girls bowing as they tiptoed backward. So sorry so sorry so sorry.” And do I really need to mention the African American chauffeur, the Asian American gardener, and the Latina kitchen staff?
Perhaps I’m getting overly sensitive in my old age, but when the few titles I read (or listen to) by non-multi-culti (award-winning) writers have me talking back to my iPod in not-so-acceptable language, obviously it’s time to go back to my more colorful world.