I don’t know if it’s something in the water or if the problem is with me, but over the last year or so I’ve consistently felt let down by new releases from some of my favorite authors. I turn to books to transport me, to challenge me, and to help me understand myself and the world around me. If you’re like me, your favorite authors are the ones who have earned your trust by consistently writing books you can count on. So what are you supposed to do when your favorite authors let you down?
A prime example for me is Kate Atkinson’s 2018 release, Transcription. One of my favorite things about Atkinson is her versatility as a writer. She is a master of taking traditional tropes and elevating them into literature. Transcription had some elements of an epistolary novel, since it was partly told through transcriptions of conversations. It also fell within the historical fiction genre while walking the line of a spy novel. But for me, it lacked the creative scope and emotional depth of Life after Life or A God in Ruins. I still think Atkinson is a brilliant writer and storyteller, but I was underwhelmed.
I’m not giving up on Atkinson, and I still have high hopes for her new release, Big Sky, the latest in her Jackson Brodie series. But I have to admit, the feeling is more like cautious optimism than hardcore fangirling.
The Trespasser I Didn’t Care About
Another author I have consistently enjoyed (until recently) is Tana French. French’s Dublin Murder Squad books were enthralling. That is, until the 2017 release of The Trespasser. To be honest, it was kind of a snoozefest. Where were the goosebumps I got from The Likeness or Broken Harbour? Where was the delightful creepiness? Instead, I got cops talking and talking and talking, and not all that much of interest going on. I did go on to read The Witch Elm, French’s newest release, but did so with trepidation. I think taking a step away from the detective procedural was a good move, but I’m curious and a little nervous about what comes next.
Unsheltered from Barbara Kingsolver’s Browbeating
Perhaps even more jarring was my reaction to Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel, Unsheltered. I have a long history with Barbara Kingsolver. The Poisonwood Bible is one of my all-time favorite books. I read Pigs in Heaven on my honeymoon. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was a gift. But Unsheltered just didn’t work for me. This book was like a series of opinion columns about everything that is wrong with the world with some scraps of narrative hung around those like curtains.
Unsheltered tries to address everything: science vs. faith, the failure of capitalism, immigration, Obamacare, how humans have stripped the earth of its resources, global warming, Trump, racism, the myth of upward mobility, economic crisis, how much better Cuba is than everywhere else—you name it, it’s in there. Not only did I find that the prolonged discussions of these topics made for unnatural conversations between characters, but I was honestly puzzled about who the intended audience was.
I agree with a lot of Kingsolver’s views, and I still found those sections preachy and boring. If I were someone who disagreed with those views, I probably would have put the book down rather than push myself through pages of aggressive conversations about hot button topics. I guess my point is that the people who would be willing to push through all of that are the people who already agree with her. For those who don’t agree, it’s not a compelling enough story to stick it out, so I seriously doubt it’s going to shift any paradigms.
On the one hand, I respect Kingsolver’s ability to be like, “I’m Barbara freaking Kingsolver. I write about whatever I want.” On the other hand, I don’t know if I want to endure another bludgeoning. Why you gotta do me like that, Barbara?
Nine Perfect Strangers I Could Have Gone Without Meeting
Finally, I am sad to say that my beloved Liane Moriarty let me down. After I discovered Moriarty in 2014, I quickly read everything she had published. When Big Little Lies took off, bringing her well-deserved international exposure, I was thrilled. I have found her books to be clever, funny, heartfelt, and compulsively readable. Then came Nine Perfect Strangers. I can only imagine the pressure of writing a new book after becoming an It author overnight, but I was disappointed.
Nine Perfect Strangers managed to be too bland in some places and too over-the-top in others. With so many characters to keep track of, it seemed inevitable that some would be forgettable. Or, you know, all of them. I wanted the charm of Moriarty’s other books, but this fell short for me. All I can hope is that it’s a temporary blip and that her commercial success won’t change her writing forever.
I don’t mean to be so hard on these books or their authors. You might completely disagree. And every author is allowed a dud once in awhile. I certainly don’t want to be like those guys who couldn’t make the college football team but are full of advice on what Tom Brady should have done on that last play. Who am I to complain? But the disappointment has been real.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though. One positive outcome is that I’ve started to explore new authors, particularly debut authors. I figure there’s a chance I can find someone new to love who has a whole career ahead of them. I’ve also started to reread the books that made me fall in love with my favorite authors in the first place.
Only time will tell if this ends up being the end of the road for some of my literary relationships, but we will always have that glorious past. In the meantime, I will keep exploring and waiting with hope to see what happens next. Onward!