June 5th, 2003

last unicorn

Beth's Book Review Corner

Evening's Empire, David Herter

This is one of those books that I plucked off the library shelf on a whim. I had never heard of it before, nor of the author, but the cover picture intrigued me.

The book is beautifully written. There are some lovely evocative passages, and it manages to avoid too much self-consciousness and literary posturing. Herter quite effectively drew me into the mind and experiences of his protagonist, and made me care about him enough to wonder what would happen to him next.

Unfortunately, it's in the plot that the book falls down. The story revolves around a composer, Russell Kent, who has returned to the small Oregon town where his wife died a year ago. Kent is writing an opera based on Jules Verne's 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea and trying to come to terms with his wife's death. As he settles into town, he begins to realize that something strange is going on there.

That synopsis covers the first two-thirds of the book. Then Herter seems to realize that not much has happened, and starts piling on the plot. Characters appear, dramatic things happen, and the book loses the attractively dreamy quality that had made it so enjoyable up to that point. Events stop developing from within the characters and just start happening to them. And nothing is ever really cleared up.

Now, I wouldn't normally object to threads being left hanging, and if Herter had stuck to the syle of the first part of the book, it would even have been appropriate. But because so much happens in the last third of the book, the absence of explanations starts to look more like a setup for a sequel than a natural outgrowth of the novel's style.

Disappointing third act aside, I do recommend this novel, because the first two-thirds really are very strong and did manage to carry my interest even through the disappointing conclusion.

Rating: ***1/2
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The super is painting the apartment next door, and all I can smell is paint fumes. I have my windows open, but it's not helping much yet. My head hurts and my tummy feels oogy.

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