Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like. This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag). Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me. Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.
Review of The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman
In the late 1970s, five childhood friends (Gwen, Mickey, Sean, Tim and Go Go) spend their free time exploring the woods outside their Baltimore neighbourhood. Then a tragedy occurs which changes their lives and those of their parents. It is a tragedy which they never discuss until Go Go's death (accident or suicide?) brings them together. Gradually the truth of what really happened in the woods is revealed.
The viewpoints of the friends are given, as are those of the parents. Everyone's motivation is examined. The problem is that irrelevant information is often included. For example, Gwen's mother was an unfulfilled artist who constantly wondered whether she made a mistake by marrying young. These details add nothing to the plot. Virtually every character suffers from depression and guilt about some choice made in the past. In essence there is too much analysis and retrospection and not enough drama. The revelations at the end are anticlimactic because it is obvious which characters lied and what they lied about.
In the recounting of the childhood escapades, the use of first person plural narration - the "royal we" - is very annoying. Sentences like, "And then we met the man who lived in the woods" suggest that one of the five is the narrator, but then all five are identified in the third person. This narrative technique does nothing but irritate. Collective experience and/or guilt can be conveyed without resorting to such distracting tactics. Furthermore, the childhood friends are all so self-absorbed that suggesting they can think or speak as a unit is not convincing.
The novel examines a number of subjects: friendship, jealousy, secrecy, guilt, and forgiveness. Obviously, the idea that the past and its secrets are always part of the present is a major theme.
What is the most dangerous thing? A secret? The truth? People's good intentions? The reader will have to decide for him/herself if he/she decides to read this not-so-thrilling "thriller."