I feel so torn over Fleishman Is in Trouble. On one hand, I found the writing brilliant, but the sheer density of the prose also wore me down. I like how it explores the unequal and gendered division of labor in marriage, but the upper-class context makes me wonder about the universality of its insights (i.e., is it just a case of “rich people problems”?). All this made for an uneven reading experience. If we’re talking about enjoyment alone I would’ve given it 3 stars, but since it’s so much better than most of the longlisted books I’ve read so far (bar Girl, Woman, Other, of course), I’m going with 4 stars.
I always feel uncomfortable when I have to give a book a low rating, but I really can’t give this one any higher, so here we are. As other reviewers have mentioned, the biggest problem with Dominicana is that it’s a tired and overused story of the immigrant experience. It’s riddled with the melodrama of a soap opera, populated by one-dimensional characters, and narrated in a flat and detached manner. At the very least, I expected to learn something new about Dominicans and Dominican culture, but the details about that were so thin that they could have easily been any other marginalized racial group.
If you’ve seen the sort of books I review on my blog, you’ll know that I’m the kind of reader who likes the reassurance of a plot, well-drawn characters, and straightforward storytelling. My favorite literary works are those like Tartt’s The Secret History (1992) and Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013), which are plotted like mysteries and contain a lot of juicy family or relationship drama.
Weather isn’t like that at all. It doesn’t have a plot; most of the characters are sketches at best; and the storytelling feels like a bunch of poem fragments, bad jokes, fortune-cookie statements, and fun facts strung together. It’s a bizarre and oddly-shaped book with an equally bizarre and odd narrator. By all appearances, Weather shouldn’t be my thing.
And yet… I liked it a lot. I liked it so much that I right after I finished itI got a copy of Offill’s previous work, Dept. of Speculation (2014), and gobbled it up in a day; and after finishing Dept. of Speculation, I realized I still liked Weather more. In fact, while I still think that Girl, Woman, Other is the strongest contender for the prize, I’d say that as of today, Weather is my personal favorite.