Friday, January 13, 2012

The Second Wives Club

As far as I know, Jane Moore's The Second Wives Club (2006) has no connection at all to Olivia Goldsmith's 1992 novel The First Wives Club, other than as a certainly conscious homage*. Unfortunately for Moore, she suffers from a bad case of what my mother calls "passably competent writing," a term that translates - for those of you who don't know my mother - as "hack work." And even more unfortunately, Goldsmith does not; anyone who picks up First Wives first will be disappointed if they then grab Second Wives, and anyone who goes the other way will stop buying Moore's books and move on to Goldsmith's permanently.

This paragraph is on page 284 of my edition**, and it perfectly sums up Moore's writing style. Just in case anyone intends to read this book, the character's name is in white; highlight to see it.

After the door had slammed shut, Alison [she] sat stock-still on the bed, staring into space. A few seconds later, the first tear trickled down her nose and fell onto her bare leg, followed shortly by several more. Her distress was silent but heartfelt. The dull thud of disappointment was matched by the searing pain of her longing for a baby that she was beginning to doubt she would ever hold in her arms.

Clearly, someone told Moore to show the reader rather than telling. Equally clearly, she misunderstood these instructions, believing that tired metaphors and unromantic body parts would fit the bill nicely, when real sensory details were too difficult to conjure.

For example: points to Moore for letting the first tear trickle down the character's nose, rather than her cheek, but the insertion of a nose*** fails to lift this passage out of the trite chick-lit quicksand it's mired in. Why didn't she tell us what the tear felt like on the character's nose, or her leg, rather than simply giving us the tear's Google Maps route to its final destination?

And, "Her distress was silent but heartfelt"? Is this aimed at the portion of the audience that believes no one is really grieving until they're screaming? Or the readers who think that people bother to shed fake tears in private? No one else is there. Of course the character's distress is heartfelt.

"Dull thud" perhaps does not deserve analysis, but I will note that it perfectly describes the pacing of the novel and the rhythm of its component sentences.

For any readers who might still want to pick up this book, a short summary: four women marry men who have been married before. The ex-wives are bitchy. None of the second wives are particularly appealing either; one is a doormat, one is a sociopath, one is an idiot, and the fourth is the least attractive, and therefore - consciously or subconsciously on the part of the author, I don't know - also the least distasteful. All of the men are weak-minded, sulky, selfish, and whiny, which is fairly realistic, I suppose, for portrayals of men who were all very willing to up and leave the women to whom they made vows.

This is one of those books not worth the brain-space required to store its details. Luckily, it's boring enough that none of it remains stuck in the mind for long. Two stars in its genre.

* In this context, "homage" really means, "I think this was a great idea and so I'll pretend my book is similar to the other one."

** This edition.

*** Generally, noses improve literature. Just look at Cyrano de Bergerac - but don't look too hard, as he challenges people to duels for staring.

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