Such a Letdown, May 13, 2013

'Caleb's Crossing' Geraldine Brooks


FYI, some spoilers in here!

So: I've read all of Geraldine Brooks's novels, and really enjoyed them. 'Year of Wonders' definitely makes it onto my top 10 of historicals (if you ignore the absurd epilogue) and I am a fussy reader! After a few recent attempts at historicals that just didn't deliver, I bought this figuring, given the author, that it was a sure bet. Unfortunately, I was wrong. This book falls into that category of novels that too many good writers seem to put out when they've become famous enough that anything goes. It's as if they feel pressured to come up with another story, and the editors check out and sign off on a mediocre offering because it's going to sell regardless...eeech.

Don't get me wrong: Brooks's prose in 'Caleb's Crossing' is still beautiful. But the story is, at best, confused, and at worst, tedious. As others have pointed out, this book has been disingenuously marketed as a story about the first native American to graduate from Harvard. In actuality, the novel skims the surface of Caleb's fascinating life, while focusing on a fictitious, oppressed-smart-girl narrator who's become a somewhat tedious stock character in Brooks's work. Which is sad, because this could have been an amazing study of parallel, marginalized lives in a colonial society if Bethia and Caleb had been given equal air-time.

Likewise, so much was suggested but left undeveloped in the plot, which could have made the novel much more interesting. The early relationship between Bethia and Caleb, for instance, suggested future romantic tension, which then entirely failed to materialize. Okay, 17th century puritan society would have precluded any serious relationship between these two; on the other hand, the relationship they DID form was equally improbable, as are a number of Bethia's actions by comparison. As in: would a girl who would willfully swallow a hallucinogenic drink pilfered from a native medicine man really never even consider the romantic possibilities with her native best friend? And then, when a love interest for Bethia does eventually happen along, he's nowhere near as interesting as Caleb. I could never quite understand why she was overcome with lust for the irritating Samuel, while apparently impervious to it with Caleb. So many interesting secondary characters remained equally, frustratingly undeveloped - Makepeace, Anne, and Joel to name a few.

So, yes, a disappointment. I wish Brooks would go back and write Caleb's story from Caleb's point of view!

By sarah on 09 November 2013 |