Monday, February 23, 2015

The Silver Star, by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls has fans among the members of Novel Conversations, and we have read all of our books in the group (this is her third). By page 2, I was groaning to myself, "Oh, no, another tale of horrendous parenting." But oh, yes, it was.

Bean (Jean) and Liz are the adolescent daughters of a woman who dreams of making it as a singer/songwriter. They live in Lost Lake, California, and their mother often disappears for days to Los Angeles, auditioning and spending time with a new boyfriend that the girls eventually discover is a figment of their mother's imagination. When Bean confronts her, the mother takes off and doesn't come back. When, after two weeks, the "bandersnatches" (the girls' term for Child Protective Services) show up, they decide to head to Virginia, where their uncle still lives in the family home.

After a bus ride in which they have to ditch a pervy dude (but otherwise doesn't seem nearly as harrowing as such a ride would actually be; Donna Tartt provided what seemed to me a more authentic description of such a ride in The Goldfinch), they find their uncle living as a hermit/hoarder in a crumbling mansion. He takes them in, however, and they begin to explore the area. Jean meets her long-dead father's family and the two find jobs with a repulsive mill foreman named Jerry Maddox. From the moment Maddox appears on the scene, it is clear that bad things will happen . . . and they do.

The Silver Star is a quick read, Bean is an engaging narrator, and Liz's fondness for word play offers sporadic amusement. But the story is predictable (well, maybe not the redemptive power of emus) and Walls, in my view, has nothing new to say. If you haven't read her previous books, perhaps The Silver Star will seem fresh. For me, it was a thumbs down.

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