Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Review - "This Must Be the Place" by Kate Racculia

Arthur Rook's wife Amy is killed while at work because of a freak, horrible accident, and he sprirals into debilitating grief. He ransacks their apartment, looking for anything he can of hers to hold onto, something that is purely Amy. What he finds--an unsent postcard dated sixteen years ago in a pink shoebox filled with trinkets and memorabilia--leads him to the tiny town of Ruby Falls in upstate New York. There he meets Mona, Amy's childhood friend, and Mona's daughter, Oneida.

Arthur and Mona knew Amy at different stages of her life: Mona up until age sixteen, when the two girls ran off to Ocean City one summer (and only one of them returned to Ruby Falls), and Arthur in Los Angeles, where Amy had established herself as a creator of monsters on movie sets. Mona did not know the adult Amy and Arthur did not know the child Amy, and so when Arthur takes rooms in Mona's boardinghouse, the two have several weeks to reconcile their versions of the same person. Mostly that means Mona has to share the secret she's kept since that life-changing summer in Ocean City, one that involves Oneida.

Honestly, I'm not sure what to think about this book. It's a debut novel with an intriguing premise and well-written scenes, but I found myself not caring about the characters all that much. Author Kate Racculia tells the story from Mona and Arthur's perspectives and throws in Oneida for good measure. Actually, Oneida's part in the tale makes sense, as Mona and Amy's big secret concerns her too. But then why does Racculia spend so much time on Eugene "Wendy" Wendell, the class screw-up and Oneida's first boyfriend? There's a whole side story surrounding Oneida and her crush, Andrew Lu, and Andrew and Wendy fighting over Oneida. Perhaps it's the result that matters: bringing Arthur and Mona together because of Oneida. In any case, I found myself not terribly interested in Wendy's wacko family or in his feelings about Oneida.

I figured out Mona's secret pretty early on and spent the rest of the book looking for clues that I was right. Losing the suspense didn't detract from the story, however, as I still wanted to find out how Mona would tell Arthur and how Arthur would react.

I was less happy about the epilogue, "Eight Years Later." Things get wrapped up in a way that seems to actually weaken the story. Stopping one chapter earlier leaves things a little unsettled but heading in a good direction. The reader gets to decide whether the ending is bittersweet or happy, and it makes the characters more real. Life is full of people who come and go, who change you in some way, and then vanish. Racculia spells out what happens to Mona and Arthur, Oneida and Wendy, and I found it rather unnecessary.

So I don't give this book a blanket thumbs-up, but if you like your chick lit to be on the serious side, give this book a try. If you go in knowing its flaws, perhaps you can enjoy the story even if the characters don't grab you.

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