~by Fredrica Wagman
A few things caught my attention when The Lie, Fredrica Wagman's seventh novel, was offered to me for review. First, was the striking cover--I will admit, I'm a sucker for a good pin-up, and it's even better since it is actually very appropriate for the story. Second was the mention of Rita Hayworth, who I was first introduced to through the film The Shawshank Redemption and then later through her own work. Finally was the promise of the exploration of sexuality in the 1940s and 1950s through the experiences of one young American woman.
Ramona Smollens met Solomon Columbus soon after her father's death. She finds herself intrigued by this decidedly unusual and un-handsome man; much to her mother's dismay--who does not approve of Mr. Columbus at all--Ramona marries him within a few weeks. She has great hope for her new life as a married woman. Expecting and wishing not only to be desired, but to feel desire, she ultimately finds herself unsatisfied. She struggles with her own expectations and the expectations thrust upon her by society and the media. How can any woman honestly live up to the portrayal of female sexuality found in films and epitomized by such as Rita Hayworth? Ramona yearns to feel as sexually alive as the characters played by her idol, but unable to she loses confidence in herself, in her relationships, and in her marriage, believing that something is shamefully wrong with her.
The writing style is very, very stream-of-conscious. While not an issue for some people, I personally don't do so well with it. I have a feeling that this is rather unfortunate in this case since Wagman seems to have executed it really well. The prose is beautiful--lyrical and almost poetic, with some wonderful turns of phrase. But despite this, I found the book hard to really enjoy. I like the story itself (very much actually), I loved the subject matter, and the ending is tremendous, but I'm sorry to say I just couldn't get past the style. It was difficult to follow some of the scene changes and I wasn't always certain when the narrator was remembering things in general or when she was recounting specific events--it all flowed together. Additionally, a few details seem to come out of nowhere, which was rather jarring (I'm thinking particularly of Ramona's mother's involvement in voodoo--really, I have no idea where that came from and it didn't really seem in character) while other major life events are barely mentioned and are more or less forgotten (here I'm thinking of the birth of her son).
One thing that Wagman does exceptionally well is convey the increasingly frenetic thoughts and feelings of her protagonist. Ramona's mindset, never particularly stable, quickly deteriorates as the events in her life elude her control. She is disconnected from everyone, including to some extent herself; the results are terrifying and there's nothing that the reader can do but identify with her feelings of loneliness and powerlessness. Even though I didn't personally enjoy the book (primarily for stylistic reasons), I am certain that many other readers who don't mind stream-of-conscious storytelling will find the novel effective, evocative, haunting and even powerful--unfortunately it just didn't work for me.