Moriarty -- Center of Everything

August 23, 2004

Laura Moriarty
The Center of Everything
New York : Hyperion, c2003.
ISBN 1401300316

I started this as an audiobook and got perhaps a quarter of the way through in 3 weeks before having it recalled. I then summoned it in hardback and finished it as a book book. It was better the second way.

Audiobooks emphasize the language. They also move at the speed of the narrrator. This can be a good thing in a book with a lot of dialogue and soliloquies. It is not so good in a book with a lot of description or action. Moriarty comes out of the writing schools, and her novel has many of the characteristics of taught fiction. Every sentence and every paragraph is good, well crafted and a pleasure to read. But because it is all so tightly written, the effect when read out loud is a surfeit of perfection; what is good on the page become precious on cd. When you add to this the fact that the book has a certain Stella Dallas aspect to it -- it is full of tragic moments and you never know what will wrench the characters next but you know it will be hard for them -- well, you are left with a precious moment of impending doom. The first thing I did with the hardback was flip to the end and check to see if one of the foreshadowed bad things happened. After that I could finish the book.

As a book book, this is a surprisingly good book. The back cover blurb calls it a Catcher in the Rye for the modern era, written from a female perspective. Someone at the publishing house got paid good money to come up with that. It is a shame that it is not quite accurate.

This is the story of Evelyn and her mother Tina, and Travis who lives in the next apartment building, all taking place in Kerrville Kansas - the center of everything. This is a story of families on the edge, poorly educated, struggling to get by, but with bright and talented students who are trying to get out by using their brains. Moriarty tackles class in Reagans America; she tackles midwestern millenial Christianity; she constantly returns to sexuality and morality. We open with Tina and Evelyn watching Ronald Reagon on TV in 1980; we end with Evelyn leaving Kerrville and Tina exploring a possible new future; between it is all struggle, romance, and wrong turns.

Several of the teenage characters have sex. Tina herself got pregnant with Evelyn while in high school and dropped out to have the baby; the father vanished. To her conservative and religious parents, this makes Tina a bad person. Especially once she starts having an affair with another man. And yet, we also see Tina as a caring mother, spending the last half of the book being successfully obsessive about a child. Elsewhere the members of these anti-Darwin, "if you hear a trumpet grab the wheel" churches provide crucial assistance to Tina and Evelyn. It is not a simple tale, and none of her characters are perfect, but all of her characters are trying to do the right thing - if only they could figure out what that is.

I would not have picked it out of the bookshelves, but it was the best looking audiobook on the short shelf that day and so it followed me home. Sometimes I like to read chick lit; I am generally fond of coming of age stories; I am intrigued by religion and public policy; and this has it all.

It was a hard book to read, but a book that I liked much better in retrospect. I look forward to Moriarty's second novel and will read that when it comes out.

Posted by Red Ted at August 23, 2004 11:42 PM | TrackBack
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