Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Dangerous Age by Ellen Gilchrist

One word describes this novel: frenetic. The dialogue, the characters, and, I am afraid to say, the writing all flit around at something approaching the speed of light.

Ellen Gilchrist has written a number of stories and novels I have enjoyed, so I was looking forward to this new one due out in June of 2008. In addition, this one is to be published by Algonquin Press of Chapel Hill, my favorite publisher and a usually reliable source of fiction.

To begin with the dialogue is dizzying. It reminds me of one of those cell phone commercials where the family frantically try and squeeze huge chunks of information into a brief call to save precious minutes. In places, it seems overwrought and artificial.

The characters are doing 20 things at once and all at an impossibly high level. For example, one character becomes pregnant, at five months almost loses the baby, but her obstetrician orders to bed for six months. At eight months, she goes on a three-and-a-half mile walk with the doctor.

These people are also frenetic drivers. I live in Waco, TX, and I have driven many times to New Orleans. It takes me eight hours, provided I do not run into any traffic problems around Houston. The trip from Waco to the South edge Dallas is an hour and a half. If it is near rush hour, it can take another hour to get out of the city on the north side. Dallas is about two and a-half hours to Oklahoma City, and Tulsa is a couple of hours further on. One character in A Dangerous Age drove from New Orleans to Tulsa in eight hours.

Gilchrist must have rushed this book because of these lapses. In another situation, one character is called to active duty in the Marines. He goes to great pains to tell his wife he is on some top secret mission and he can’t tell her about it. He then proceeds to tell, in great detail, all about is job – on the phone and in e-mails. Maybe Gilchrist was on a secret mission, too, but darned if I know what it was.

All in all, a disappointing effort from a fine writer. 2 stars

--Chiron, 4/24/08

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