Thursday, November 29, 2012

"This Must Be the Place," by Kate Racculia

Reading an author’s first novel is always a gamble. Many -- probably most -- of the novels I read are by authors I have already read; some of these authors are on my “always get and read their latest books” list. So I usually don’t read a first novel unless I have either read an excellent review of the book, or had the book recommended to me by someone whose taste I trust, and know is similar to mine. One exception is sometimes books-on-CD. Since there are far fewer such CDs than there are books, and even fewer available at my local library, I sometimes take a chance on an unknown book, in interests of having new books to listen to in my car. I recently picked up at the library “This Must Be the Place” (Holt, 2010; CD Tantor, 2010), by Kate Racculia, a first novel full of quirky characters and surprises. The vividness of the characters is the main positive attribute of this novel; the mystery about the characters’ pasts is another. However, the latter attribute is slightly marred by the frequently overwrought telling of the story, with dramatic pauses and secrets dragged out a bit too lengthily. Arthur Rook’s wife Amy Henderson has died suddenly in Los Angeles, where they have been living, and Arthur -- in shock and not knowing what to do -- on impulse tracks down and stays with Amy’s closest childhood friend, Mona Jones, and her teenaged daughter Oneida, at their boarding house in the small town in New York State where Amy and Mona grew up. There are many portentous references to the long ago summer when the teenaged Mona and Amy ran away to the Jersey shore, to the mysterious events and repercussions that ensued, and to the way that summer set in motion a series of events that are now about to be revealed. A side story is that of Oneida’s boyfriend Eugene and his artistic, offbeat family, a family with secrets of its own. The story is enjoyable and even gripping at times, if a bit overwritten. A side note: the description of the author on the back cover of the CD includes the following sentence, which readers of this blog will know contains at least two elements always of interest to me (“Jane Austen” and “Canada”): “Kate Racculia grew up in Syracuse, New York, and attended college in Buffalo, where she studied illustration, design, Jane Austen, and Canada.”

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