Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fragile, and slightly disappointing, Beasts

It's always a disappointment when a long-awaited book turns out to be not what you're hoping. It's worse when it happens right towards the end of the book. It's worst of all, though, when it's by a new writer you promote often and would quit your job to do PR for.

Such was the case with Fragile Beasts, the new Tawni O'Dell. Yeah, you heard me right, the new. Tawni. O'Dell. I saw it in the new books section and it was all I could do not to scream out "Fuckyeah!" in the middle of the library (and since it was the central branch, I wouldn't have to worry about getting thrown out).

Fragile Beasts is vaguely linked in with all the rest of them, taking place in the same fictionalized depressed Pennsylvania coal town area. It's the tale of three people: Kyle, Klint and Candace. Kyle and Klint are teenaged boys whose father just died in a drunk-driving accident. Their mother had ran out several years before and is now suddenly back to lay claim on them and spirit them away to Arizona, where she's living now with their little sister, who she took with her, and the guy she ran off with.

This is a disaster. Not just because the mother is a total trainwreck, but because Klint is a hotshot baseball player, who's been heavily scouted even as a junior, and needs to stay with his team for his future. Enter Candace.

The boys have been fortunate enough to make friends with Shelby, who's the niece of rich, reclusive Candace. Now 77, Candace has never married or had children, has a ton of money, and remains on her enormous estate just outside of town with her staff and her bull. Shelby convinces Candace to take the boys in.

You can probably guess at a fair amount of the rest. There are a few surprises, though. The father who died in the drunk-driving accident emerges as a likeable, caring man, just a man without very high aspirations or direction in life. Candace is billed as Having A Secret, but it's not a real secret. It's just one of those things in families that isn't discussed, much like how I knew that my great-uncle was a PTSD victim who spent most of his life institutionalized, but knew none of the details (and now that everyone's dead, never will).

Candace coughs up Her Secret early on (the book alternates between her perspective and Kyle's) and as it turns out, the evidence of it was pretty much everywhere and could have been uncovered through a Google search. By the way, am I the only one who's thrown off when a book will casually mention a specific website or video game? It's like books don't mix with those things, to me.

Anyway, so you may be wondering, where's the disappointment? Well, readers, it is in the melodramatic final 50 pages or so, which contain a suicide attempt, a real death, and the revelation of An Actual Shocking Secret that was totally unneccessary and cheapened the rest of the book, in my opinion. It didn't seem to fit, before or after. It's like O'Dell just threw it in because she needed something to drive the book to its conclusion.

I wouldn't tell people not to bother with this one altogether. But if you've never read one by Tawni O'Dell, start with Sister Mine. Don't start here.