Thursday, November 7, 2019

What Happened With My Reading of The Cutting Season

"Just after dawn, Caren walks the grounds of Belle Vie, the historic plantation house in Louisiana that she has managed for four years. Today she sees nothing unusual, apart from some ground that has been dug up by the fence bordering the sugar cane fields. Assuming an animal has been out after dark, she asks the gardener to tidy it up. Not long afterwards, he calls her to say it's something else. Something terrible. A dead body. 
At a distance, she missed her. The girl, the dirt and the blood. Now she has police on site, an investigation in progress, and a member of staff no one can track down. And Caren keeps uncovering things she will wish she didn't know. As she's drawn into the dead girl's story, she makes shattering discoveries about the future of Belle Vie, the secrets of its past, and sees, more clearly than ever, that Belle Vie, its beauty, is not to be trusted."
So, yeah. Time for me to get to hammering with my TRUTH. Like how I had the total gall to DNF Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season. I know. I know. I know how stuff works around here. This was a book–like so many others–that I’m “suppose” to like. Nah, this mug was bor-RING.

The Cutting Season is a literary (if that word is necessary) murder mystery. It weaves together two periods in time alongside two respective mysteries. Mystery One: Civil War era plantation where a female slave once went missing. Mystery Two: same plantation now a historic landmark, where a present-day body turns up at the property line. Two interwoven mysteries blossoming with possibilities and profundity, as they pounce upon a study of American slavery era throes with its present-day echos and resonance. Sounds like a hit–like no other! And I believed it possible in The Cutting Season. Both concepts of the depravity of slavery and its compelling illustration of 17th to 18th century southern American history would become a taunt-like joy to unbraid around a present day murder mystery.

Yet, no. Or, at least, I didn't get into the book deep enough to step into its truth. Because I couldn't quite shake the wafting ennui in the book's first fifty pages. Nor could I shake the book's vibe of projection, as oppose to presences.

But while I did struggle with that, here’s why I decided to call it quits overall...

Jaunty timeline problems lands as the first bothersome issue. The book opens with Caren finding the body of said unidentified woman, along the plantation's fence line. Then it jaunts backward into the previous few days or so leading up to the finding of the body. And that jaunt landed us into a compendium of character, place and history used to build atmosphere and the story's setup. This would include long moments diving into Caren's (along with her family) history and role on the plantation. More on the other workers on the plantation and his or her various relations to the place. And more on, really, the whole operation. Now by "more" I emphasis time cut off from the titillating discovery of the body, which somehow got shuffled (along with the timeline) in the setup's mix. I looked at it like this: the fireman started tossing coal into the boiler's firebox to get the locomotive running. Then he proceeded to take the coals out in the same stroke. Not to say flashbacks don't work–because we know they do. Still, in this case, there was some suffering to me in doing so.

Then we jaunted back into Caren post finding the body. Then back in time to settle more setup and setting for the reader. Then back into time where two of the working hands found the body and alerted Caren. But I could have sworn–about the initial scene of Caren discovering the body–that she was alone at the body's discovery.

I had to step back and go...

Literary mystery or not, one thing that gets my goose is when an author dawdles from feeding the reader information once the murder sets in. In this case, I wish the author either started with the body then proceeded to stir in the characters' background and setup without the use of a flashback. Or started hours leading up to the body and do so–to at least give us a quick history lesson on Caren and her means of carrying us through this story first. But once there is a body found, I needed information to start pouring in about... well... the body and proceeding investigation. Caren's and the plantation's history would've feed in nicely along the way. As oppose to the stop 'n' go flow it took before things took off on the rails.

Still, speaking of which, Caren was pretty stale. Fifty pages in, I could not come to grips with how unresponsive she came across. There was a certain passivity to her voice, and not limited to the finding of the body. I didn’t feel anything off her. Which was very hard for me to shake, because that was a sign of my lack of confidence in her character. I need to feel any assuredness with her, let alone a personality. Maybe the further I went things would've change. However, as they say, first impressions are everything. And Caren's first impression was one of doubt. I could see what was coming ahead, and I knew I didn't want to stick around.

As I’ve said before, I take books as they are at the moment in which I’m reading them. An author can tackle any topic; take me, the reader, anywhere he or she plans to go. I can sometimes work through a book’s rocky first fifty pages, such as The Cutting Season's. But very little can save a narrative voice that isn't engaging me. Which is unfortunately what I abandoned this book with. An arduous narrative to carry me though to the finer points wasn't going to work. And a wonky narrative flow to boot.

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