A Hundred Years of Tortured Dullness

Lately, I’ve been on a quest for a good escapist novel. I’d hoped that Outlander or Flatland might help, but they didn’t. I started a kids book about a boy who can’t swim who goes to another world and must potentially fight a dragon in the water. It was ok, and maybe I’ll go back to it, but it was a flawed work that jumped too quickly from scene to scene without building up the characters enough, so I struggled to care about the characters.

Then, the other week, I was walking past a bookstore and saw The Hundred-Year House, by Rebecca Makkai, sitting seductively in the window. As with Flatland, I was drawn to this title because I have another idea for a book that involves the timeline and history of a very old house. Curious to see if someone else had already written something similar to my idea, I immediately detoured into the bookstore to pay $16 for a book that seemed intriguing and was overflowing with praise from some of the highest echelons of literary criticism (like the New York Times Book Review).

What a complete and utter waste of money. I am one hell of a disgruntled reader right now. I’m also cynical enough to suspect that the publisher paid the reviewers for their positive reviews. This book was so bad that I have a very hard time believing the reviews are honest.

The book is supposed to tell the tale of a family with secrets living in a haunted house, and then it goes backwards through time, revealing some of the mysteries that led to the haunting. So, problem number one: the house isn’t haunted. There’s nothing spooky about the house. There are one or two weird things that happen, but nothing like what one would expect with a story about a haunted house.

The lack of a haunting in a story about a haunted house is actually one of the minor problems. Much more upsetting is the fact that the book is so poorly organized, the characters are impossible to like or care about in any way, and the story is too boring to actually read. And I tried! I suffered through dislikable characters for over 200 pages. I kept hoping that something would happen that I would care about. But they were just all so horrible and deceptive and stupid. As soon as a story would show any hint of possibly improving, that timeline would end, and we’d jump back in time to a previous storyline. I think the jumping backwards was supposed to help reveal aspects of the story, but it didn’t. The book was too poorly organized for anything as useful as a reveal.

I sort of finished the book, but I basically just skimmed the last half. I just wanted the damned thing to be over, and since I’d paid for it, I was going to suffer through to the end.

Lessons learned from this book: Ignore all praise that a publisher deems worthy to promote on a book and stick to checking books out from the library.

Save money, support a library!