It took me forever to get through this and I’m not quite sure why. It seems like every time I’d sit down to read it, I’d start to think of other things, like playing “Boom Voyage” on my PC or eating cheesy crackers, and then I’d put it aside for another day. This went on for several weeks. I guess I wasn’t all that into it.
As I mentioned before, Goodbye Lemon is an angry young man novel. Actually it’s kind of an angry young man/domestic drama combo. The protagonist, Jack Tennant, a thirty-three year-old ex-adjunct English instructor, suffers from a severe case of survivor’s guilt due to his older brother’s death from drowning many years before. His entire family suffers the same guilt in different guises, and the story centers around how each person in the family deals with his/her grief and how they relate to each other. This is a really simplistic view of the novel’s basic premise, but I don’t want to dwell on the plot too much. Plot regurgitation is incredibly dull to read (and write).
There are some absolutely gorgeous aspects to this novel, and most of them have to do with prose. It starts out with one of the best prologues I’ve read in a long time. Here’s a description of the sensations and emotions Jack imagines his brother may have felt while drowning:
“Maybe he was shocked. He couldn’t believe it was happening, even at the last moment, when he felt his beloved orange flip-flops sucked off of his feet. That last sensation might have felt heavy, like being pressed under a mattress. It might have been epiphanic, like finally getting a joke you never understood. Maybe it felt like being airborne. Or like forgiveness.” (p. 5)
There are great descriptive passages all through Goodbye Lemon. Just now, while randomly flipping through the book, I ran into this passage:
“I pour a finger of Lagavulin into the cup and soak one of the small sponges in it. Then I unhinge his cowcatcher jaw and swab his tongue and the vault of his mouth with the scotch. I keep spreading the liquor onto his taste buds until his finger twitches with ecstasy and his eye quits flickering , stabilizes, then finally closes and he falls asleep, princely and innocent.” (p. 134).
A great deal can be forgiven when a writer imbues his work with such imagery, but not everything can. As the story progressed, Goodbye Lemon became increasingly ponderous to read. It was as if Mr. Davies kept trying to hard to impress with his unique vocabulary and phrasing. Here are a few examples:
“Press spits askance.” (p. 115) ~I’m getting the giggles picturing this.
“I Sturm and Drang against her…” (p. 193) ~Giggling again!
“A belch escapes me, filling the air with hot lactic particles.” (p. 58) ~To be honest, I sort of like this one.
The ending was quite diasappointing, and the climaxes (there were several) were difficult to believe. It ended happily, like any good soap-opera should. What started out as a promising, narrative-rich angry young man novel ended up like the movie “Jersey Girl.” Blah! Lad lit strikes again!
I have high hopes for Adam Davies, though. He has talent, and he’s popular. (His first novel, The Frog King, is being made into a movie, and, last I heard, the script is being written by Bret Easton Ellis). In the future, Mr. Davies needs to work on tightening-up his writing in order to make it more appealing to people like me. He needs to quit showing-off his mad writerly skillz and concentrate on the most important element of this type of dramatic (or almost any) fiction: story! Only then will he become a truly great writer.