Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: "Alice and Oliver" by Charles Bock

The best compliment I can give Alice and Oliver, the sophomore novel of writer Charles Bock, is that it is nothing like his first one, Beautiful Children. Where that one was a dreamlike odyssey into the lives of Las Vegas residents affected by the disappearance of a teenaged boy, this novel is much more grounded and focused although just at long being a smidge under 400 pages. Stylistically it is also a very different book, forgoing the jumbled hypnotic narrative of Beautiful Children for something a bit more conventional, and it is in this conventionality where the book fails, at least for me. It is hard to critique a book as personal as this, as evidenced by its heartbreaking afterword, but this book seems dim and derivative in the shadow of an amazing first book. As the title suggests, it concerns a New York City couple, Alice, a fashion designer and her husband Oliver, who works in the tech industry in 1993, seem to have built decent lives for one another: they complement each other and each one has something the other does not, which reveals itself after Alice’s sudden cancer diagnosis. The bulk of the novel deals with her attempts at getting affordable treatment, the financial burden falling solely on the head of an already stressed out Oliver. Alice, meanwhile, takes things in stride, forming odd yet lasting relationships with hospital staff and fellow cancer sufferers, one of which, Mervyn, a rock musician with an outlandish sense of humor, accounts for the funniest and saddest sections of the book. While I was never bored, I was never moved either, and found a revelation near the end about Oliver totally inappropriate and his character never recovers. But this is really Alice’s book, who becomes a fun and inspiring character, and the strongest and most positive aspects I will take from this novel. 

Rating: 4/5

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