Are all books set in Chicago crap or is it just my bad luck?
Robert Danziger, a middle aged publisher, moves back to Chicago, after having lived in the UK for many years. There he needs to confront his past when his black childhood friend seeks him out after having been released from prison after twenty odd years. Our Robert is a rather bland character, petty, and randomly racist but the sad thing is I don't think the author meant him to come across like that.
He has a young beautiful wife, who is a fierce human right lawyer. I have no idea how this relationship works, because Robert is everything Anna should despise - he is passive, prejudiced and boring. Duval, Robert's childhood friend who did time for a violent rape is probably the most interesting character of them all but he is also prone to illogical behaviour.
I think one of the main rules for any writer should be to make sure you know your characters and their motivations. They might not know why they're doing something, but the author has to know that always. Otherwise you end up with a book that makes little sense full of people doing random things. Additionally, for a book that's called 'Without Prejudice' if features an exceptional number of despicable black people, who for some reason all pick on poor Robert. It becomes disturbing when you compare the author's biography with Robert's biography and realise how much alike they are.
Other than that, the book has a whole load of cliché characters: there is Vanetta, the lovely black nanny, cook and cleaner, Merrill - the evil, purse-lipped stepmother, a young beautiful wife, and an ambitious vixen out to seduce poor Robert.
None of this is helped by exceptionally poor writing, dialogues verging on ridiculous, and a plot where I predicted every single plot twist but one. I couldn’t believe how obvious it was 99% of the time.
Here are some quotes from the very beginning of the book when I still cared enough to mark them.
"The skinny awkward kid Robert had known must have filled out. Didn’t all convicts lift weights, grow muscle-bound? Presumably for protection – Rober knew prison life was violent, scarily so;" – ah, isn’t that Robert dude smart? He figured it all out.
"Whatever the ups and downs they had between them, there was always conversation – sometimes funny (she often made him laugh)," – thank you, dear author, for explaining to us what funny means.
"London wasn’t exactly a multi-racial utopia, but she insisted Chicago was much worse. He wasn’t sure, though he certainly found himself more conscious of race than he had been in all his years in England. But he assumed that was inevitably in a city that probably contained more black people than the whole of the UK." Sigh. Yeah, probably not. Chicago has actually less black people than London alone (mostly because it is basically a smaller city). Seriously, if you want to write a book about race, check your facts at least.
"’Maybe he just wants more money.’
‘No, he said money wasn’t the issue.’ He had always thought publishing was more about experience than IQ, but the way Anna inevitably got the point right away sometimes made him wonder. But then she was unusually incisive." Lord, how incisive Anna was! She guessed that the reason an author might want to leave a small publisher and go with a big one could be that he wanted more money. Damn, that chick got brains!
And let me wrap it up with this little gem of a dialogue:
(backstory: Anna is trying to clear Duval's name and get some information from Ferraro, the policeman who took part in his arrest. She called Ferraro's house.)
'Yes, well, we’re never going to know for sure.’ (here we all realise that Ferraro is dead already because it’s been twenty-five years).
He was puzzled by this apparent abdication. ‘Why?’
‘Ferraro retired twelve years ago. He moved to Meyer’s Beach on the Gulf side. I spoke to his wife on the phone this afternoon. She was a nice-sounding woman.’
‘Yes, but what did Ferraro say?’ How typical of a woman to start talking about how nice another woman sounded on the phone.
‘He didn’t. It turned out I was speaking to his widow.’"
How typical of a woman? Seriously? Blame your inability to introduce tension in your dialogue on women, way to go, Andrew Rosenheim.
PS. There was also a fascinating bit about Anna's aquamarine eyes paling in the sunlight or some such, but I can't find it at the moment.