Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Review: New Year's Eve

Written by Lisa Grunwald
Crown Publishers, Inc., 1997; 366 pages


Description from GoodReads:
Ghosts haunt the pages of Lisa Grunwald's novel, New Year's Eve. The book opens on New Year's Eve 1985. Erica and her twin sister, Heather, are celebrating the occasion as they do every year, with their husbands and widowed father. Both women are pregnant, due within weeks of each other. Over the years, the sisters have grown apart, and with the death of their mother, their already distant father has become even more difficult to reach. When the babies are born a few months later, it seems that these new "twins" will become the bond reuniting this family. Then, a few years later, Heather's son, David, is killed in an accident and Erica's daughter begins receiving "visits" from him. Soon, the visits drive this family even farther apart than before as Heather desperately clings to the tenuous connection with her dead son while Erica fights to keep her daughter rooted among the living.
My Thoughts

I should say right away that this book was actually un-put-down-able. Grunwald is a fine writer, and knows how to tell a story. It kept me up all hours, gobbling up the pages – so I was able to finish it in just a couple of days. Which is unusual for me. I enjoyed it, but it made me crazy, too. Not the spooky part – because although there is a ghostly presence in the book in the form of Erica's dead nephew David, the novel really isn't a traditional ghost tale. It's a story of sibling rivalry, family history, family secrets, and the ways in which we handle the loss of loved ones.

But while I enjoyed the book overall, there were things about it that I found not particularly attractive. I thought the ending was weak – after the major crisis, things just seem to sort of dwindle and the action fades away. And I found the whole story of Erica and Heather and the interaction between them and the rest of their family frustrating and irritating, and at times not altogether believable. The family is alarmingly insular, self-contained, and self-absorbed; their relationships claustrophobic and suffocating. Not only do the twins spend every single New Year's Eve of their lives with their parents and each other – they seem to have no social contacts outside the family, aside from a few colleagues and servants. No wonder the kid starts seeing ghosts!

Reading this book, the holiday I kept thinking of was not New Year's Eve, but Festivus, the alternate-Christmas event from the Seinfeld TV show. But the family in Grunwald's novel never quite make it to the Feats of Strength – they're completely mired down in the Airing of Grievances. Almost every chapter could have begun and ended with Frank Costanza's line, "I got a lot of problems with you people!"

After a while, I simply lost patience with Erica and her inability to make a break with the people she believed were threatening her child, as well as her own security and happiness. I don't think I would have put up with it so long. But then, I'm not a mother or a twin, or even a sibling – another reader might feel Grunwald got the dynamics just right. And, of course, if Erica had come to her senses early on, there wouldn't have been a story to tell, would there?

I did enjoy the book even though I had a few problems with it along the way. It's a good family drama with lots of suspense, spooky overtones and interesting, if sometimes frustrating, characters. A good read, but not a great one.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for a good honest review, Joy...I might add this one to my list. :)

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  2. Good review, although I think I'll be passing on the book.

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  3. I'm not a mother or a sibling either. I'm not sure there are that many of us!
    In my opinion, any review that references Festivus is a winner :)

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  4. Great review Jill! love the Seinfeld references too. I can see how one child seeing the ghost of the other is bound to casue some problems.

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