Thursday, March 17, 2016

Book 16: Mr. Splitfoot

"I have a parade of grotesque urges. I want to push little buttons quickly. I want information immediately. I want to post pictures of Ruth and me smiling into the sun. I want people to like me, like me, like me. I want to buy things without trying them on. I want to look at photos of drunk kids I knew back in high school. And I want it all in my hand. But my cyborg parts have been ripped out. What's the temperature? I don't know. What's the capital of Hawaii? I don't know anything. I don't even know the automated systems in my body anymore. I don't know how to be hungry, how to sleep, to breathe." 

Dates Read: January 7-11, 2016

Rating: 7/10

What does it mean to like a book? Does it mean you find it compelling and want to keep reading it when you put it down? Does it mean you think it's well-written? Does it mean that you connect with the characters and care about what happens to them? Does it mean you don't want it to end? Does it mean you want to read it again? Or is it just something ineffable, unquantifiable, that marks the dividing line between "liked it" and "didn't like it"? I can't remember a book before Mr. Splitfoot that has so challenged me to think about what I mean when I say that I "like" a book. I'm still not sure, months after it's been filed away as "read" on Goodreads, whether or not I liked it (I write the first draft of my review very quickly after finishing a book, but I do come back to make revisions a few times before anything officially goes up). That rating? Not a result of any sort of thought process besides that a six seemed too low, and an eight too high.

Mr. Splitfoot is structured as dual narratives that come together at the end. The first, earlier-in-time part of the story follows Ruth and Nat, two of many abandoned children at a state-funded, religiously-motivated facility in upstate New York that cares for them, sort of, until they turn 18. Ruth's older sister Elinor has aged out, so she and Nat declare themselves sisters and bond to each other as their chosen family. As children, they start playing at summoning ghosts with the other kids, and once they reach their late teens, a traveling con man named Mr. Bell takes them and their act on the road. The second, later-in-time part of the story focuses on Cora, Ruth's niece, in the present day. At 25, she's living with her mother, working a dead-end job at an insurance company, and has just been knocked up by older man named Lord who's still married to the wife that was institutionalized after she tried to kill him. Cora only met Ruth (and Nat) once, but that one visit stuck with the then-teenage Cora for life. When Ruth suddenly reappears, after Cora's revelation of her pregnancy to Lord doesn't go well, Cora is just about over everything in her life enough to follow the now-mute Ruth on a journey. Where they're going, and why, and how Ruth came to be mute, are revealed only gradually over the course of the stories as they move forward.

I think, ultimately, that I liked Mr. Splitfoot. I LOVED the language. I highlighted what feels like a quarter of the book in my Kindle and agonized for quite a while over which quote to publish as a part of this post. I've put more Samantha Hunt in my Amazon wishlist, because her way with words is incredible. It reminded me of how Jeffrey Eugenides writes, and Eugenides is one of my all-time favorite authors. And I found the book compelling, both because of its powerful language and because I wanted to see how the mysteries presented by the story were going to be wrapped up. And when they do wrap up, at the end, it makes for a big and satisfying emotional punch. But I thought it moved too slowly, with not enough revelations along the way...instead of whetting my appetite for more, I just kept getting frustrated by not knowing what was going on or where it was headed. And characterization, which is big for me in my enjoyment of a book, was thin. It was hard to understand what motivated the characters to act the way they did. Was it worth reading? Yes, for the wordsmithing alone. But did I enjoy the experience of reading it? Only sort of and sometimes. I did appreciate it by the end, and it stuck with me for a long time. 

Tell me, blog friends...what do you mean when you say you like a book?

**I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review**

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

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