Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Next Queen of Heaven by Gregory Maguire

This is one of those novels where you care... but then you don't. For some reason, as interesting and extraordinary as the characters were supposed to be, most of the time I could not bring myself to *really* want to know what was going to happen. Maybe because they were *all* written as extraordinary, they all became ordinary within the novel.

I will be more specific. You have a stereo-typical evangelical christian who gets conked on the head while sneaking in the basement of the neighboring catholic church with, of all things, a statue of a catholic figurehead, her "slutty" and "stupid" daughter, her bully son, and her other highly effeminate, "confused" son. After being hit in the head, Leontina (the mother)'s behavior becomes bizarre---though never quite bizarre enough---cutting off the beginnings of her words, acting like a child in many ways, and eventually shutting down (much more interesting examples exist, but I do not wish to spoil any of the story). This all happens while her children, 17, 15, and 13 (ish.. I am not sure of the age of the youngest), are "taking care of" her and attempting to move forward and grow in their own lives. Just to add a little more, the daughter is also suffering from a boyfriend who is suddenly unavailable, as well as being the object of grown men's attentions.

And that's just one of the story lines. The other centers around three gay guys in this small new york town who need to practice for their singing group in a building housing a dozen or so elderly nuns. One of the guys, who also happens to be the musical director for the catholic church in which Leontina hit her head, is fighting demons from his past, another of the guys is fighting his too-catholic parents as well as a life-threatening disease, and the third is jewish.

In under 300 pages, the book became a series of events instead of a novel wherein the reader could actually feel attached to any of the characters. In the end, it was difficult to feel anything---sympathy, joy, laughter, pain---for the characters because they had all become caricatures of who they could have been.

Criticism aside, Maguire is still a great writer with interesting approaches, good ideas, and a nice use of words.

I would recommend this book to people whose favorites books are among the "drama" or "life" books.

THREE of five stars

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