Sunday, October 23, 2011

Verge by Z Egloff

Publisher:       Bywater Books                                          

Is it possible to like a book but not like its main character?  Verge will give the reader a chance to decide that.

Claire McMinn is a recovering alcoholic and sex addict who wants to be a film maker.  Unfortunately, she slept with the wife of the professor who controls whether or not she can stay in the film program at her college and she got caught.  Now Claire is scrambling to save her career.  If she can complete her class project, maybe she'll be allowed back in the program.  Hope resides in Sister Hilary, who works at a community center where Claire volunteers.  The center owns video equipment and Claire is given permission to use it if she will make a film about the center. Complications pile on top of complications between Claire's peculiar family, her best friend Shelby, with whom she has on and off again affairs, and Sister Hilary.  Whether or not Claire is going to be able to accomplish any of her goals is highly doubtful.

The best way to describe Claire McMinn is to say that she's a mess.  She's certainly irresponsible and her own worst enemy.  In quick order she sleeps with her professor's wife, her best friend, who identifies herself as straight, and then seduces a nun.  Some of her behavior can be explained by her being in an alcoholic haze, but there's also an underlying feeling that Claire thinks she can do anything she wants to and get away with it.  She always seems perplexed when other people don't see things that way.  If she was deliberately trying to ruin her life, she couldn't do a much better job at it.

A description of this book says: "Verge will appeal to readers who are interested in spirituality, addiction recovery, the madcap humor of gay/lesbian AA, the creative arts, and the lives of twenty-first-century nuns, as well as the trials and tribulations—and adventures—of contemporary lesbians."  The book certainly touches on some of those subjects, but not in a very convincing manner.  If this is supposed to be a picture of the lives of contemporary lesbians, then it's a disappointing one.  While Claire says she's dedicated to recovering from her alcoholism, her behavior calls into question her true dedication to the underlying problem. She makes bad decisions.  It's hard to know whether to be pulling for Claire as she bumbles through her life or hope that someone finally confronts her for what she's doing and holds her accountable.

The same feeling involves the whole book.  Verge is structurally well written.  That can be said with certainty.  Z Egloff knows how to write.  It has received acclaim from some well-known writers and was a finalist and winner of some awards.  The question is if the acclaim is for the production of the book or the story within it. No matter how well the story is written, the main character is irritating to the point of wanting to sometimes slap her for her behavior.  Perhaps that is the essence of creating a realistic character.

Going back to the original question, is it possible to like a book but not like its main character?  Maybe it's best to leave that up to the reader to decide.  This reader's answer would be "No," but there is room for discussion.

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