Thursday, January 21, 2010

Expectations

I find it interesting how our expectations about a book, or a movie, or anything really, colors our experience of them and determines how we react to them. Sometimes, I prefer to go into reading a book with very little information so that my reaction can be my own and unaffected. This was not the case with two books I read recently.

It seems like I've been hearing and reading about how amazing Jayne Pupek's Tomato Girl was for years - and it has only been out since 2008! Every review I've come across has been glowing, and I expected to feel the same way. Well, I am going to bravely buck the trend. Tomato Girl is a story filled with dysfunctional people. Adolescent Ellie Sanders has had a difficult childhood as her mother suffers from mental illness. Her father has been supportive for many years, but his patience has run out and he has taken up with an abused and epileptic teenage girl, finally running away with her and leaving Ellie alone with her very, very ill mother. Bad stuff happens. More bad stuff happens. The last 50 pages are almost comical in that every horrible thing that could happen to a young girl does - in one day. There was a phrase that kept coming to my mind while I read this.

Hopeless Trainwreck.

I almost stopped reading 2/3 of the way through because I lost sight of the point of this book. I know bad stuff happens, and frankly I happen to read and 'enjoy' many particularly depressing books. This one crossed the line for me I guess and felt unnecessarily hopeless. It reminded me of a young adult novel bloggers raved about in the past year about a young teen being held hostage by a pedophile. I wonder, why do we need to read the fiction about this? We know it happens and the reality is bad enough. I am also reminded of another book that seems like a trainwreck, everything bad that could happen does, yet in the end there is hope. That book was A Fine Balanceand is a particular favorite of mine. In the end, I know everyone loved Tomato Girl but I didn't.



On a lighter note, The Monsters of Templetonby Lauren Groff is a book that seems to elicit strong reaction. Readers seem to either love it or hate it. I've had this book for some time now, and the feeling I had based on reviews was that I wasn't going to be crazy about it, but I was pleasantly surprised. In a nutshell, pregnant grad student Willie returns to her hometown of Templeton to get away from her life. She discovers that her father is not who she thought he was and sets out to explore the town's history to figure out who he was. There are photographs of Willie's ancestors, old letters, and chapters from the point of view of long dead relatives. All this tells the story of Templeton and Willie. Oh, there is a lake monster too. My sense was that the author doesn't take herself too seriously, there were many unique elements in this book. Overall I enjoyed this book, though it wasn't a love affair. By the end I was ready to be done (editing?). I'll be interested to see what Groff comes up with next.

23 comments:

Michelle said...

I thought the same thing about "Monsters of Templeton" when I read it. I liked the idea of a kind of legendary background, but wasn't so sure about how everything else would fit in.

It's a pretty solid book, thought, that does kind of need a little editing near the end. I agree with you.

Michelle said...

*though

Diane said...

I SO LOVED Tomato Girl; it was my #1 book of 2008.

avisannschild said...

I have Tomato Girl, but I haven't read it yet. Like you I have/had high hopes. I hope I'll enjoy it more than you did!

bermudaonion said...

Sorry you didn't enjoy Tomato Girl - at least Monsters of Templeton exceeded your expectations!

Staci said...

I enjoyed Tomato Girl but I thought more than once, "how many bad things can happen to this child!!" A Fine Balance is a fave of mine. I read it quite a few years ago yet it still stays with me.

Kay said...

I loved A Fine Balance too. It has stuck with me for years and I have recommended it many times. I have Tomato Girl around here somewhere, probably at the bottom of a big stack. I'll get to it at some point. I also have The Monsters of Templeton (all these books that I just had to have and haven't read....). Anyway, I apprciate hearing your thought on both of them.

Andi said...

I read Groff's short story collection, Delicate Edible Birds, a couple of years ago, and I absolutely loved it. I'm eager to try The Monsters of Templeton too, so I'm glad to see you were pleasantly surprised. She does have a definite quirkiness about her that I really like.

Sharayah_L said...

I'd love to follow your blog, but i cannot seem to find the follow button. =/

jennysbooks said...

Expectations can be such a killer! I am always trying to figure out how to go into a book/film without any expectations, so that I can just enjoy it for what it is - but I find it impossible! If I know almost nothing about the book/film to start with, I develop expectations anyway within the first few pages. I've found it works out better to know lots of spoilers going in. :)

Tara said...

Hi Michelle, yes, I liked the whole idea of the book too, and her approach to the ancestry.

Diane, I guess we differ on this one!

Avisannschild, well, you'll probably like it much more than me, everyone else did!

kathy, yes it did!

Staci, wasn't A Fine Balance amazing? I want to reread it someday.

Kay, I sure know what you mean about books I had to have...Monsters of Templeton was one of those which helped clear the TBR pile.

Andi, I have a copy of that so it's good to know you loved it! It'll be interesting to see how the quirkiness translates into short stories.

Sharayah, thank you! I don't have a button, but you can follow people from the blogger dashboard, that's how I do it.

Jennysbooks, you're funny! But yes, first impressions can really affect my reactions too.

Ti said...

I haven't read either of these books but I did experience the same feeling while reading The Hunger Games. It was good, but not great and honestly, I don't see what all the hype is about. Of course, I am much older than its intended audience so I'll give it that.

Bonnie said...

I loved Tomato Girl, I found the little girl endearing and some very poignant moments filled with wisdom. I couldn't read Monsters of Templeton. I got an ARC copy and I couldn't get past the first few pages and the story held no interest at all for me. It's interesting that everyone has a different take on books!

Nan said...

Never heard of the tomato book and never want to read it. :<)

Danielle said...

I try and not read reviews before starting a book, too, but it can be hard. I like the idea of giving any book I pick up an equal chance--but sometimes I've read less than glowing reviews. Do I go ahead and read it as it sounds good or take a pass? I mooched the Templeton book and somehow haven't heard about The Tomato Girl! Sometimes it's good to read really old books that no one is talking about!

Les said...

I haven't even heard of Tomato Girl! Guess I should take a look at the blurb, but it certainly doesn't sound like something I'd like to read. Reading your remarks makes me think of The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. Talk about a hopeless trainwreck!

Like Kay, I read A Fine Balance many years ago. It made my Top Ten list that year and I gave copies to several relatives. I LOVED it! I can still picture several specific scenes and wish I could find the time to read it again. Oh, what a good book!

The Monsters of Templeton might be a good book to nominate to my f2f book club. Thanks, Tara!

Iliana said...

Oh yes, expectations do color the experience. I liked Tomato Girl but I think I must have read it right when all the hype was going on so I liked it. There have been quite a few books that left me wondering if we'd read the same book though! ha,ha...

I'm sorry you didn't like Tomato Girl but good thing Monsters ended up being a good one for you. I'd like to get to that one someday.

Samantha said...

I liked Monsters of Templeton well enough but not enough to glowingly recommend it - which is always the "gold" standard as to whether I LOVED a book :-)

Tara said...

Ti, I liked The Hunger Games a lot, but I can see your point. It wasn't as 'amazing' as I'd expected.

Bonnie, such different reactions we had!

Nan, it is definitely not one for you, I can tell you for sure.

Danielle, I so know what you mean, and when I've bought a book and then hear negative things about it, I am less inclined to pick it up. I am currently reading lots of older books!

Les, really? I actually liked The Glass Castle so that makes me wonder what the difference was. The writing was vastly better, also the fact that it was nonfiction, and the fact that we know Jeanette Walls is successful means that the story was never completely hopeless. Interesting. I know what you mean about A Fine Balance. I too remember detailed parts of it.

Iliana, I've wondered the same thing with certain books going around!

Samantha, I couldn't agree more. I liked it 'well enough' for it to be pleasant, no more.

melanie said...

Well, I'm one of the Tomato lovers, although I find it totally understandable how it could be too much. I have had A Fine Balance in my stacks for years...maybe 2010 will see me reading it.

Tara said...

Mel, A Fine Balance is crazy amazing. REad it!

Anna said...

Sorry you didn't enjoy Tomato Girl. I see your points, and I had some of the same thoughts while reading, but I loved it anyway. People have different tastes, which is why it's great there are so many books out there from which to choose.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Tara said...

Anna, amen to that!