Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.
I was, initially, really interested in reading Beauty: A Novel. It’s a tale about a female executive who goes to shut down a dying fish processing plant, only to discover she wants to buy it. She falls in love with the town and the people. It sounded like exactly my kind of book! Instead, this one kind of felt like a chore.
Frederick Dillen’s writing is mostly ponderous, to the point of being tedious. I don’t mind a slow book–I rather enjoy taking my time savoring a well-written literary novel. This is just circular and distracting. Dillen spends a great deal of time telling us what he’s going to tell us next, describing what people are doing and thinking using obscure terms and references, and basically taking ages to get on with the story. It’s just plain frustrating.
Dillen’s setting and characters are the redeeming points of the novel. The tiny seaside town is comforting in its claustrophobia, charming in its smelly fishiness. The characters–the secondaries, in particular–are round, colorful, and infused with emotion. These are earthy people–you may know a few of them. Easy, the love interest, is quiet, sweet, and still. He’s deeply human, though we don’t get nearly enough of him. Even Baxter, the “villain,” if you will, is infused with charm.
The one exception is Dillen’s heroine, Carol. Alternately nicknamed “Beast” by her boss for her business prowess (a name that hurts her feelings on a personal level), and, awkwardly, “Beauty” by the man who falls in (insta-) love with her, Carol is difficult to relate to. Dillen spends a great deal of time explaining Carol’s thoughts and feelings, but he uses such a jarring style for his flashbacks, such odd leaps in intuition, and so many completely unrelatable descriptions (“he sat back down as if his desk were a jacked Fairlane….” A Ford Fairlane? What? How does that make him sit, exactly, Carol? I don’t…?) that it’s almost impossible to feel we know anything about Carol through anything but her actions. For me, that just doesn’t work–if I can’t relate to or understand the one person in the novel with whom I’m supposed to sympathize the most, I just can’t enjoy the book.
The portions spent outside the characters’ heads are the best parts of the book, and the impetus that kept me reading. I did want to know what would happen with the fish business, and between Carol and Easy. When those parts were rolling, I felt like we were finally getting somewhere. It was hard, then, not to be irritated by the distraction of another belabored inner monologue. Ultimately, I found the business story rewarding, but the romance a little trite and underdeveloped.
As always, these are just my opinions–you might love this book completely! Dillen is an award-winning author. But, for me, it means that awards and recognition don’t always mean a great read.
Two stars. A bit of very mild language a couple of times.Beauty: A Novel will be released on March 4th. Thanks to Simon & Schuster & Edelweiss for the opportunity to read it for review.