Last week, I read a book with two timelines woven together, present-time and WWII-time, and I’m trying to figure out why it did NOT work for me. I ended up skimming then skipped the WWII timeline. I also ended up doing a quick read of the present time.
Was it me? Or was it the book?
I read the 200 plus ratings on Amazon. Seventy percent gave it a 5-star and twenty percent gave it a 4-star.
Obviously, I’m in a minority.
Many people liked the characters and enthused about the plot and the history. Some wanted more of the history (and I’m thinking…really?).
People made comments such as: writing captivated me, thoughtful and well-written, quick paced and interesting, truly moved by the historical portion, unforgettable, wanted to know what happened, highly recommend.
WWII over saturation?
I read WWII stories because my Work-in-Progress has a WWII story braided into it. And I’ve read these historical stories from the Point-of-View of a German, a French, a British, a Lithuanian, a Prussian, a Polish… So maybe I’ve read too many because that part of this author’s book felt “done” to me. Been there. Done that.
In fact, literary agent Kristin Nelson wrote a column in August on the 12 Trends in the Query Inbox. Her fourth point?
Yikes! A standout story? How daunting is that? All of this does not bode well for me as a tentative, attempting to be a debut author.
But I also tried to analyze it beyond my saturation in WWII stories.
Characterizations? Extra subplots?
There’s an elderly character in the present timeline of this story and I didn’t understand why this character, after remaining adamant for decades about an issue, all of a sudden “pop” and changes their mind. I didn’t see any foreshadowing, that person was not a main character so the reader had no access to internal thoughts and the main character did not seem to dig too deeply into that change.
The other piece that distracted me in the present story was a side plot that tried to add mystery, extra suspense to the suspense that was already in place from the main plot. I did not appreciate this side plot because it took away from getting to know the major characters better.
Perhaps that was the biggest piece that disappointed me. Not having enough time within the main character of the present day story. I have become used to a “deep” point of view and a focused novel that keeps to a main plot and any subplot reinforce that main plot so that I am totally involved with the main character’s life and feelings.
A book with feels
Sara Gruen’s WWII book, At the Water’s Edge, had this deep point of view and that focus.
We stayed in Maddie’s point of view the whole time. The reader was exposed to her internalization—her emotions, her thoughts, her senses. Gruen’s story really captivated me and kept me up the night I read it.
Of course, it also helped that the majority of the story took place in Scotland, a country where I lived for a couple of years and I miss it dearly.
At any rate, lots of food for thought as I think about revising and refining my Work in Progress!
How about you? Do you stop to analyze why some stories, that you figure will really grab you, fail to do so?