Review - CASEBOOK, Mona Simpson
It's taken quite a few attempts to read CASEBOOK, it's been one of the most picked up and discarded books in the review pile for quite a while.
The idea behind it was part of the problem – a young boy eavesdropping on his family as his parent's marriage falls apart. It feels therefore like it's going to be very personal. Devastating even. Unfortunately the storytelling relies heavily on the stream-of-conscious voice of young Miles – who frankly – doesn't feel "real". Or maybe he just doesn't feel right – too voyeuristic. Odd. Creepy. Certainly tediously addicted to the sorts of injokes that some people like to use to keep others on the outside. It's not hard to get the hint you're not part of the cool group.
Which isn't a great way to be made to feel if you're reading something. It made every paragraph, every chapter, every page a drag. Constantly being reminded of not getting the joke, by a kid that was making your skin crawl a bit, and about people that frankly were considerably more dreary than anything else. I was bored. And annoyed. And then more I got so obsessed with how bored and annoyed I was, I found I was reading just to make myself more and more convinced that I was right to be bored and annoyed. About half way through I found I couldn't even remember who most of the characters were, but I was still bored. And annoyed.
So I threw in the towel on CASEBOOK about three-quarters of the way through. Which is most unusual – normally I can find something. But in this case the voice didn't work, the characters weren't interesting, likeable, identifiable or understandable and their path to salvation was definitely not heading in my direction.
From the acclaimed and award-winning author: a beguiling new novel about an eavesdropping boy working to discover the obscure mysteries of his unraveling family. He uncovers instead what he least wants to know: the workings of his parents' private lives. And even then he can't stop snooping.
Miles Adler-Rich, helped by his friend Hector, spies and listens in on his separating parents. Both boys are in thrall to Miles's unsuspecting mother, Irene, who is "pretty for a mathematician." They rifle through her dresser drawers and strip-mine her computer diary, finding that all leads pull them straight into her bedroom, and into questions about a stranger from Washington, D.C., who weaves in and out of their lives. Their amateur detective work starts innocently but soon takes them to the far reaches of adult privacy as they acquire knowledge that will affect the family's well-being, prosperity, and sanity. Once burdened with this powerful information, the boys struggle to deal with the existence of evil, and proceed to concoct hilarious modes of revenge on their villains and eventually, haltingly, learn to offer animal comfort to those harmed and to create an imaginative path to their own salvation.