Recommendation: I was very excited to get my hands on this book, but I found it rather disappointing. The plot was a bit too heavy-handed and the characters (especially the women) a little too flimsy. I just couldn’t get into it the way I wanted to.
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Catherine Strayed is struggling. Her husband died in a mysterious crash after his debut novel was panned by a well known critic, who just happens to be Catherine’s former lover. Her bills are piling up and her job at the local bookstore isn’t cutting it. She feels lost and adrift, unable to move on from her small town, but unwilling to stay. When Antonia Lively, a new author with a highly anticipated novel, arrives in town her quest for information might just break loose the mystery that has engulfed Catherine’s life.
Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence had intrigued me for weeks before I got my hands on the book. It’s an odd title, full of suspense and promise. Unfortunately, I found that the title is a bit misleading. There is suspense, there is promise, but there is a crucial aspect missing that killed the story for me. It’s called Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence, but Antonia Lively doesn’t do much of note. Neither does the narrator, Catherine Strayed. And so, we end up with a novel whose two central characters don’t actually push the action.
Catherine is the most passive narrator that I’ve read in quite some time. I can’t actually remember anything that she does. She tries a couple times, either to escape or to move on, but she is constantly dragged back by an emotional frailty that borders on comedy. This probably says more about me than it does about the author or the book, but I just couldn’t deal with another story where the men act and the women react. Catherine’s old lover writes the review, Catherine’s husband commits suicide, Catherine cries and watches her life fall apart. Antonia writes a novel, gets great praise, researches her next big hit, but it’s Catherine’s old lover (again) who decides where her career will go.
The plot was also a little more convoluted than necessary. Every little thing had to be a mystery until it seemed way out of hand. Why is an old man following Antonia? Why did Catherine’s lover come back into town? Why did her husband drive off in that snowstorm? Did he kill himself? Who is Antonia Lively? What’s her new book about? What’s in Catherine’s lover’s new book? Why are there NO answers in the first 250 pages?!?!? Plain and simple, it was too much. It was clear there was an author pulling the strings, and it’s always better not to feel that way when you’re reading .
I wanted more. I wanted the female characters to make decisions, take action, take control of their lives, change things, address their problems, find a way to better their situation. And it just didn’t happen. Again, I’m probably projecting my own desires onto this novel, and that likely isn’t fair. Levinson can write. He’s got a tendency to spit out a few too many words, but that doesn’t change the fact that he can write. This novel isn’t terrible. And its weak female characters are closer to the norm than they are to some new problem….but I’m ready for better. I’m ready for a book that doesn’t push men to be seen and women be unseen, men to choose and women to watch. I wanted something new and with a female protagonist/narrator and a female’s name in the title, I really thought this would be it. I was wrong.