Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spotlight series: Unbridled Books

Aarti at Booklust has begun a new adventure for all of us: The Spotlight series, a reading and discussion series focused on small press publishers, their authors and their books.   The first publisher in the spotlight is Unbridled Books.  I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of today's book last month - I think through Shelf Awareness. So I'm spotlighting THE SINGER"S GUN.

Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Format:  galley proof 304 pgs
Characters:Anton, Elena, Aria, Agent Broden
Subject: moral choices
Setting: New York City, Ischia Isle- Italy
Genre: fiction
Source: ARC from the publisher Unbridled Books
Challenge: ARC completion

Essentially, except for Homeland Security officer Alexandra Broden who is investigating immigration and passport fraud, just about every other character in this book is participating in some kind of fraud.  There are two couples who shouldn't be couples but can't seem to generate enough energy to do anything about it, there are parents who find nothing wrong with teaching their son and adopted daughter how to cheat at everything, there are the 'innocents' who are living lives of ear  based on fraudulent identities; there are blackmailers, murderers, bullies, and smugglers. And then there's Anton, one of the most dysfunctional men I've met in a book in a long time.  He has obviously been warped by his cousin Aria, an orphan who was raised by Anton's parents, and who leads Anton into a life of crime, self-recrimination, and guilt. And finally, there's Elena, Anton's lover, secretary, and  'customer' of his illegal activities. Mandel would have us believe Anton and Elena are just poor schmucks who truly dislike what they are doing and want to change, but don't know how. 

The prose is clear, it's concise, and it paints a good picture. I just had a hard time buying the premise the picture was painting.  I think Mandel is trying to paint Anton as some sort of victim.  I see him as a weak and crippled character, afraid to break away from his family to do the 'right' thing.  Here at least Mandel succeeds in what I believe her central premise is - that often it is difficult to choose to act against family.  And when the family is the one encouraging you to make immoral choices, well...........

That the book ends as it does (and I don't do spoilers in reviews) is nothing short of a miracle.  To finish the book is to arrive at the last page seriously depressed that such people exist in our world, but with hope that there are still people who have the empathy and ability to act humanely. It was very slow getting started, the characters were not very likable, (although I suspect they are quite representative of real people), and I had a hard time figuring out just where the author was going with the story.  Suddenly at around page 150 it finally started picking up steam and I felt like it would not be a waste to finish it. I'm not sure I'd say I really liked this book, but I didn't really dislike it.

It's hard to explain or review this one without spoilers. It would be a great book for a discussion group because the moral judgments and choices depicted all could have been different, but that would have made a different story. It's a good read, but probably not for everyone.

It would even make a good movie, given the taste of today's movie going public.


  1. Wow, this sounds depressing! How sad to read a book full of unhappy people and feel that those are representative of real ones :-( I have heard good things about Mandel, so it's sad you didn't like this one. It's ok- next time!

    And I do Spotlight Series with Chris from Bookarama and Amy from My Friend Amy, too! Hope to see you next time!

  2. I didn't not like this was just not what I expected. I find it difficult to review books when I don't like the characters, but then maybe that was a sign the book was well-written...The author is able to portray people with warts and make us understand why they behave the way they do. We just don't have to like their actions or motivations.

  3. I really enjoyed this novel. I reviewed it awhile back, if you care to read my thoughts. Scroll down past the first novel and you will see it, I wrote the review as a duel review of her novels.

  4. This book sounds so good!! I have to add this to my pile. I just recently finished with her first book, Last Night in Montreal. Totally loved it, so I'm looking forward to reading this one. Good review!


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