When a Novel Might be Better as a Series

The People We Hate at the Wedding

By Grant Ginder

For a novel trumpeted in the jacket copy as hilarious, you’ll find the humor sporadic and often deprecating, both self and towards others. But you would probably expect such from a cast of characters, mother Donna, deceased father Bill, son Paul, daughter Alice, and Donna’s daughter from a previous marriage Eloise, who are less than likable (except maybe for Eloise and her overly nice and supremely contented fiancee Ollie). Everybody has issues with each other; everybody has issues with themselves; everybody, except for mellow Ollie, is wildly neurotic. Imagine them together at Eloise’s wedding and you picture something riotously funny or riotously bloody. Regrettably, you’ll not get much of either in the end here. To boot, everything proves too predictable.

The story turns on a deeply held family secret kept by Donna about Paul and his father Bill to protect Paul from a harsh and painful truth, known only by one other person, Eloise. From this stems much of the anger, resentment, and neurotic behavior in the novel. Settings are L.A., St. Charles, IL (you don’t see this much in novels), Philadelphia, London and Dorset. The novel features some explicit sexual scenes not everybody will be happy to encounter, though they are critical to Paul’s story. And sorry to report, but Paul’s tale revolves around some pretty unfortunate gay stereotyping.

In its favor, this is the type of novel that could make a compelling cable or streaming limited series in the hands of the right producers and showrunner, perhaps, if we’re lucky, like Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, which was very popular in print and on HBO. w/c

Coming of Age in Crisis

The Girl Who Slept with God

By Val Brelinski

In Val Brelinski’s well done and often moving debut novel, readers see the world through the eyes of a girl (Jory) just reaching puberty (13 turning 14), raised with two sisters (little Frances and older Grace), in rural Idaho, as a member of a small evangelical church, by parents who eschew the modern world of the 1970s. As she comes of age, she has to deal with 17-year-old Grace’s return from a mission in Mexico pregnant and claiming it to be the work of God, with parents (Oren and Esther) in turmoil and at odds, and with an older man (Grip, in his 20s), of dubious background, who befriends her, a relationship not a few may find creepy (though Grip reveals himself to be a noble character).

You’ll find the strengths of the novel in Brelinski’s gently melodic tone, upon which you’ll find yourself drifting, as if on the Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” (Pure Moods, Vol. I), and the change in Jory, both in her maturation, her personal strength, and the world beyond her church and insular religious school. In other words, this is a novel not so much about the mystical, which you might expect from the title, but one grounded firmly in the experiences of families dealing with crises and young women grappling with their new roles as young, social women. Read with this in mind and you’ll find it an impressive first effort. w/c