'The Glass Ocean'

Friday, August 9, 2013

Lori Baker. Penguin Press, 335 pp. $25.95

I didn't have any idea what to think of this book when I began to read it. The quotes on the cover and in the publicist's sheet were raving about this story. The publicist sent me a link to a romance literature journal, where the reviewer poured her love for this book onto the page. In my mind, I'm wondering if this is a historical novel, a romance novel, or a little bit of both. And in that case, why did Thomas Pynchon and John Banville supposedly love it so much?

I honestly wanted to like this book. With such rave reviews, and using the idea of a woman imagining what her parents' love story might have been like, I was definitely intrigued.

I was not, however, as drawn into the book as I would have liked to be. The idea of an imagined love story is great, but in order for it to be successful the two subjects of the imagination need to have a love story. Clothilde and Leon, the parents of Carlotta Dell'oro, the one with the imagination, never have that moment where you think they might actually fall in love. Clothilde can't stand Leon for most of the book, even when she marries him out of convenience and necessity.

What I don't understand is this: In many cases, children dream of their parents as two individuals who love each other and have created a child. If the parents are no longer together, children often think back to a time when they might have once loved each other. At no point in "The Glass Ocean" did Clothilde and Leon fall in love with each other. Clothilde was most in love with her own father, and Leon followed her around like a hapless puppy, dedicated to her every whim.

Perhaps I simply didn't find the story believable. Perhaps I didn't get it. That being said, this isn't the first time I've read a story that falls flat in comparison to the idea that inspired the entire charade.

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