DNF...See You Later

Did not finish. Three sad words when it comes to a reader‘s TBR pile. And three especially sad words when it comes to a novel written by one of my favorite authors.

All a woman needs are flowers, books, and a cup of tea

Maybe it‘s because of COVID-19 that I can’t get through Amy Tan’s book The Kitchen God’s Wife. It’s appropriate to blame all bad things on the virus isn’t it? The same way people pin blame on Obama or Trump or the way they were raised, yes?

I think that’s what I’ll do.

Bad day? Bad attitude? That spring blizzard? The fact that my husband recreated a pan full of Popeye’s fried chicken for dinner yesterday?

No, wait. That chicken was the result of scrolling Facebook and someone’s random post complete with a plate full of that mouthwatering chicken.

Too much time indoors due to the shelter in place order, so I have nothing to do but scroll social media—-thanks COVID-19. You can bet I’ll blame any weight gain during this time on you as well.

And believe me, I realize this exotic disease is a very bad thing indeed, but did it have to attack my pleasure reading? I wish I could say it isn’t so.

But it is.

Not only have I failed to read an entire book straight through, thanks, in part, to excessive and rather intense day job hours (Yes, I am thankful to still have a job and to be able to work from home, but that doesn’t mean my job is cushy these days.) and a well-timed, stress induced tic in my right eye, but it seems to have had a retro effect on Tan’s story structure in The Kitchen God’s Wife.

Amy Tan, The Kitchen God's Wife

What I'd expected was an intriguing, culture-filled novel about a woman and her elderly mother. The book started out well enough. A family gathering, some moderate dysfunction. There was a funeral, and that was sad. As always, the dialogue and pacing, the narrative, all of it was great. I carried that book everywhere so that I could snatch up any spare minute to read it.

And then something happened.

The structure shifted. The narrator went from being fully engaged in the story line, to telling everything that led up to page one. I get it. For the most part. The story had to lead up to the main conflict. But, there wasn't anymore dialogue. The characters I'd met in the first chapter, the ones I'd grown to care about and root for, just faded into the background and the phrase DNF moved to the forefront of my brain.

Yet I hate the thought of DNF'ing a book. Especially an Amy Tan book. The characters stick with me, you know? Instead, I'll try it again later. It's a little trick I learned when I read Wide Sargaso Sea by Jean Rhys, which I was able to finish reading a few months later. It has yet to work with All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr...though I'm happy to report that I've read through page 100 at least three times now.

Anthony Doerr All The Light We Cannot See

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving is another book I have yet to finish. I read about half of it last year. There was so much I enjoyed about this novel that I was surprised when I hit a slow spot and couldn't continue. (It wasn't the length of the novel that deterred me. After all, I've read Wally Lamb's I Know This Much is True about eleven times and that book is a behemoth!)

John Irving A Prayer for Owen Meany

Have you read Irvin's book? Owen Meany's voice is audible, I swear. And the emotions, the story line, the mystery behind Owen's parents. What is the deal between Owen and his parents? Their relationship vibe reminded me of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and how Boo Radley wasn't allowed out of his house. I have another one of Irvin's book on my TBR pile, The Cider House Rules. My hope is that reading it (assuming I ever get around to it) will help me sink back into Owen Meany's story.

Until then, I'll treat my DNF titles like a 'See you later' instead of a formal goodbye. Because you never know if you'll reach out to them later and hit that sweet spot in the story that keeps you going right through to the last page. That sweet spot, that when you close the book, you hold it close and wonder how you ever went a day without knowing every little detail about that character and setting.

John Irving & Wally Lamb

Tell me what you're reading these days. Have you DNF'd a book recently? If so, why? And do you think you'll come back to it later?

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