Monday, June 8, 2009

When Madeline was Young - Jane Hamilton

Summary: When Arron Maciver's beautiful young wife, Madeline, suffers brain damage in a bike accident, she is left with the intellectual powers of a six-year-old. In the years that follow, Aaron and his second wife care for Madeline with deep tenderness and devotion as they raise two children of their own.

Narrated by Aaron's son, Mac, When Madeline Was Young chronicles the Maciver family through the decades, from Mac's childhood growing up with Madeline and his cousin Buddy in Wisconsin through the Vietnam War, through Mac's years as a husband with children of his own, and through Buddy's involvement with the subsequent Gulf Wars. Jane Hamilton, with her usual humor and keen observations of human relationships, deftly explores the Macivers' unusual situation and examines notions of childhood (through Mac's and Buddy's actual youth as well as Madeline's infantilization) and rivalry between Mac's and Buddy's families that spans decades and various wars. She captures the pleasures and frustrations of marriage and family, and she exposes the role that past relationships, rivalries, and regrets inevitably play in the lives of adults. (Cover Photo from Barnes &, Summary from book jacket)

My Review: When I first read the summary I found the plot line intriguing. Growing up with your father's ex-wife as your sister, that's fairly unique, right? And it was except that wasn't really what the story focused on. This read more like the diary of the younger brother, Mac, except it included way too much detail, especially in the dialogue, to be even a believable diary account.

Mac's parents were always honest with him and his sister about Madeline's identity, showing them photos of her as their father's bride and recounting her tragic accident. In fact they were honest to the point that Mac felt nothing was odd about his upbringing until his cousin, Buddy, made some inappropriate comments about Madeline, leaving Mac to question his upbringing. The story continues with more of an emphasize on Buddy and Mac's relationship, while leaving Madeline's life as just a side story. The parts about Madeline were interesting to me but the parts about Buddy were rather dull. I also found that the story took a political, anti-Vietnam turn which was fairly distracting and not at all what I would have expected.

Hamilton has a unique writing style. It's one that takes a few chapters to get used to before things start flowing smoothly. I enjoyed her writing very much in Map of the World. Years after reading it I am still thinking about that novel, where as I am certain this story will soon be forgotten to me.

My Rating: 2 Stars

If I had to sum this book up in one sentence: A story that disappoints as it veers from an intriguing plot line into a dull novel.


MindySue said...

Great review, Heather!

Sweet Em said...

Well - the intriguing plot line sounds so interesting that it nearly tempts me to read this book despite your 2 star rating...

...but then I realize you rated it 2 stars, so that makes me not want to read it. A real conundrum. (But I think I'm going to trust you.)

Heather said...

Oh, if only this book had stuck to the plot line...
feel free to give it a try, Em, in fact I have a copy I'll gladly hand over! :)


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