Book 38 Completed
I have to tell you all, there was a great deal of satisfaction for me when I read in the Acknowledgements in the back of the book (six pages of thank yous — the book AND the gratitude were equally lengthy) that the author wished to express deep thanks to John Irving. He thanked him for friendship and for the writing help.
Didn’t I call that?
Can I get like a pat on the back, an internet shout-out, buy me a drink? Just kidding. Seriously. It’s not like it’s particularly hard to make the John Irving connection. Nor was I the first person to do so. As a matter of fact, since this book was released in February of 2009, you could venture a guess that I’m one year and four months too late on saying anything remotely close to, “Hey! He’s the Indian/Ethiopian born John Iriving.”
Irving’s influence on this work is noteworthy because if you’re not an Irving fan, I’d steer clear of Cutting for Stone too. The whole thing shares qualities with The World According to Garp — without the humor and with hundreds of pages of medical jargon and explanation — but doesn’t provide you with the reading experience of something like A Prayer for Owen Meany. Verghese is a talented writer, no question. He has a brilliant cadence to his words, a way to arrange them so beautifully and effortlessly that you get swept up in the moment. The story was a “meh” for me — not that I wasn’t engaged or intrigued by these characters, but I always felt at arm’s length in regards to the main plot thread. The Marion/Genet love story was interesting, but other than boyish hormones, I couldn’t see the lasting appeal. That is my biggest complaint. On the other hand, the mystery surrounding Thomas Stone…that I liked. And so, I felt satisfied at the conclusion of the book.
These are fully realized characters — eccentric, but believable, lovable and accessible. All good things.
And I think the book had a strong ending, coupled with a powerful beginning, and so that is a good thing too.
But the middle was occasionally murky — as if the author had several directions he wanted to go, wrote them all, and then never edited them down. It could have used a trim, for my tastes. Be fairly warned too that this book was written by a physician and meticulously researched — to the point where the pages of exposition and dialogue discussing surgery and fistulas were interesting, but wholly unnecessary to the book and I realized I could skim the details without missing a beat. I have an argument with myself as a reader whenever I skim over meaty-researched elements. Certainly, the author included all this background to add authenticity and power to his story — but if I can skip it and have the same reading experience, is it necessary?
I don’t have an answer. Skimming feels like cheating. Reading it sometimes feels like torture. Either way I feel guilty.
My guess is that this book will grow on me more as I ponder it — much like, not surprisingly, John Irving’s effect on me — and that I will grow to appreciate its storytelling powers exponentially in hindsight. I do think it’s worth reading and checking out, if one has the aptitude for the intricacies of surgery and a stomach for books dealing with female circumcisions. One thing is for sure: Verghese is talented and he has a great love for Ethiopia.