Monday, March 5, 2012

Riding Lessons

Book Review

Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen

A couple of years ago I read Water for Elephants, also by Gruen, and I really liked it.

I was transported to another time and place, to an environment I have no familiarity with. I was presented with details of that time and it made me feel like I was there.

I had hopes that this might be good too. I did notice that this book was written before Water for Elephants, but maybe it would still be good.

Riding Lessons

I liked this book some, but it is not as well-crafted or as well-structured as "Water".

The story line is quite abrupt at the beginning. I didn't get the chance to develop any sympathy for the protagonist before bad things happened. Actually, the bad things happen, and too many of them, before anything else happens. Before we are introduced to a set of characters. Before we get the setting. Before we get much of anything.

Developing sympathy with the protagonist is pretty important if you want me to care that all these bad things are happening to her.

The writing style here is not bad when the text is pulled apart and examined without considering the structure of the story. When considered with the structure, the writing is a bit choppy between topics. Some topics aren't developed enough to believe them, while others are developed a bit too much.

It doesn't help much that our protagonist's problems are too extreme and too numerous all at once. She causes the problems herself, as if she just doesn't care. If she doesn't care, why should I? But then, all of a sudden, it seems like she does care. Oh, too late. I didn't care before, and you can't make me care now that the protagonist cares. And I have a hard time sympathizing with a character that demonstrates her shallowness on several occasions. Flip flopping between shallowness and deep caring just doesn't work for me.

This whole thing just isn't fluid enough. If I could cut out bits of the story and wrap them up with different transitions, this might be a better book. Maybe. Bits of it are good. I wish there had been some heavy-handed editing on the subplots. The basic plot is okay, but the execution is not helped by the treatment of the subplots.

I didn't feel transported to New Hampshire. In fact, I forgot where the setting was located more than once. I had to go back and remind myself where she was. That's not good. We get plenty of mention of horses, but the assorted details of horse tack are thrown at us in the beginning and then, a little less so, again at the end. It feels like the author got a brief tutorial on horse tack right before starting the beginning of the book, forgot about tack, and then remembered to add some back in at the end. This doesn't help make the book feel genuine.

All of that sounds like a lot of criticism, and it is, but this is not a completely worthless book. It just feels like a practice session for Water for Elephants. Maybe that is what this is.

Sometimes, we just need the space to do some practicing. In that sense, this is pretty good practicing. Like I said, this book isn't completely worthless.

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