Friday, February 11, 2011

Swapping Lives

The back cover copy of Swapping Lives begins: "What if a successful, single Londoner and a comfortable, Connecticut mother of two were to walk in each other's shoes for a month?" Unfortunately, the answer is, Who cares? The book follows a single thirty-something women's magazine editor and a married Desperate Housewife type as they, spoiler alert, swap lives. The early-onset I'm-not-entirely-fulfilled midlife crises that prompt this switch are so utterly self-indulgent that even Candace Bushnell would raise a Grey Goose Cosmopolitan in salute. Only when UCSB, my alma mater, finally makes a few breakthroughs in that brand-new nanotech building they spent so many bazillions of dollars on, will it be technologically possible to produce a small enough violin.

Also, if I had a dollar for every time the phrases "keeping up with the Joneses" and "the grass is greener on the other side" appeared in this book, I'd have as many dollars as the author.

However, this book might hit three stars (on my subjective, genre-influenced scale) were it not for the verb tenses, which veer wildly from present* to present perfect to past perfect to simple past, sometimes within the same paragraph. As it is, I'm giving it one and a half, or perhaps I gave it one and a half? Or, alternately, I had, or possibly have, given it one and a half. Are you confused yet? I was. Both Jane Green and her editor seem to inhabit a world in which nothing happens in sequence. For example, the book was clearly published before it was edited.

*I won't lie: I have strong feelings about the present tense, which has NO PLACE in fiction narrative, save for very specific purposes ("You are eaten by a grue"). But if you must use the present tense, then damn it, stick with it.

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