Book: Summit Avenue

Summit Avenue
Mary Sharratt
2000

This was a rather ponderous novel about the experiences of a rather unusual young German immigrant girl living in Minneapolis during World War I. The girl becomes a translator for a wealthy lady working a book about fairy tales. Throughout this time, she becomes friends with the wealthy lady and stuff happens, just not a whole lot of stuff. The writing isn’t bad, but the book only really has enough plot for 75 pages (the book is actually 252 pages long). The characters are rather archetypal (the narrator is painted as hopelessly naive until she is “shocked” out of it, and even then is still ridiculously naive).

The writing flows well and is easy to read, but the book feels long. Part of that is because of the lack of actual plot happening, but a large part of it was due to it being difficult to really care about what happened to the character telling the story. The book is also frustrating to read because the main character’s life gets a little better at the beginning, and then goes progressively downhill from there with no hope of it ever getting better again (we know how she ends up at the beginning). Even worse than the progressive worsening of the character’s life is the fact that the end of the book provides no resolution to the story at all! It really feels like the author knew what was going to happen next, but was too bored of the story to finish. Resolution is important. Otherwise the book leaves me with a sour taste, even if the majority of the book was great!

The comments and attitudes concerning fairy tales in the book tended to irritate me. The very much followed modern “feminist” writings on fairy tales, which (besides being inappropriate for the time period) tend to rather miss the point and make me wonder why the character spouting the theories believes that they like fairy tales. They clearly don’t really like or respect them, so why do they think they do? The other thing that really irritated me was the main character’s repeated comments that “fairy tales are for children”. A young woman who grew up in a small town in southern Germany in the earliest years of the twentieth century would have absolutely no reason to say or think that way. For her, fairy tales would have been something that everyone in the village would have told and listened too. They would have been told for entertainment, comfort, the teaching of lessons and the reinforcement of community ties. No German peasant woman of the period would have any reason to feel that fairy tales are for children. Why does this woman think that then? It makes no sense.

Anyway, I’ve said very little good about this book but it wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t good and I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you have a copy and need something to read, it could be amusing in a pinch (just don’t feel bad skimming over the long sections when nothing happens!). The writer is actually a pretty good writer; this just wasn’t a great book. I would be happy to read something else she wrote in the hopes of it being better.

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