Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Lesley Kagan/LAND OF A HUNDRED WONDERS
1973: Gibby, a 20-year-old orphan, lives with her grandpa in rural Kentucky, where the two of them run a breakfast diner. Gibby has one major life impediment: she's NQR, Not Quite Right. The car crash that killed her parents three years earlier also left her with some brain damage that may or may not be permanent. She has poor short-term memory, word recollection, and (sometimes) common sense. But Gibby believes that the brain damage isn't permanent, and that if she can just prove that she is Quite Right again, her mother's ghost in heaven will be at peace. But Gibby's plans for proving herself are thwarted at every turn--by her pregnant best friend, by the evil town drunkard who is bent on taking advantage of Gibby's spotty memory, by the race riots that are ripping her town apart, by her grandfather's failing health, and by the body that she keeps forgetting she found washed up on the beach. Will Gibby be able to prove to her angel mom that she's ok... and get out of all her messes in one piece?
This is a great, quick read, and Kagan's gimmick--the charming but flighty brain-damaged first person narrator--is consistently and convincingly developed. The story is rich and multicolored with just enough irritation to keep you reading--you, the reader, remember the dead body, and it drives you nuts that Gibby can't keep that (and other things) in her head.
Kagan has also chosen a moment in history to lay down her narrative, framing the story with Vietnam vets, violent backlash to the civil rights movement, and rising drug culture. If anything, the book takes on a little too much--there are so many characters and so many issues and interests at stake that the book takes a turn for the plodding as the author works to revolve all the story lines. But overall the book is a quick and pleasant read. I would recommend it to fans of books like The Memory Keeper's Daughter or My Sister's Keeper.