About two thirds of the way through reading Landslide I realized I just didn’t like this book very much, I had a choice – keep going, or just put it in the return to library pile. And I decided to keep going, which speaks well for this book! Not every book is just right for every reader – and that often has nothing to do with the quality of the book. That’s definitely the case here. I think this book is really well written, and I am sure that there are plenty of people who might read this book and have one of THOSE moments – the kind where you read and then re-read a sentence and just sit back and sigh and maybe even take a picture on your phone so you can look back at the quote again at some point in the future. There are gifted turns of phrase here, and the writer has a strong perspective.
My problems with this book are mainly about the characters (more on this later). I wished that I could connect more with the main character – as a wife and mother, I certainly could understand where she was coming from in terms of her thinking about marriage and family, reconciling life before and after children. The main character Jill has two teenage sons (“the wolves”) and lives on a remote island in Maine. Her husband, Kit, is a handsome fisherman. When the novel begins, he has had a terrible accident and Jill has to care for her family while he’s in the hospital in Nova Scotia. Although the family’s worry over the accident is new, the situation of being isolated on the island with her sons is not – Kit’s job often has him out on the sea for long periods of time, and it’s gotten much harder for their family to make a living from his fishing alone. Jill is a documentary film maker of moderate success, producing films mostly about the changes in small industries in her general area (her most recent project focusing on the slow demise of locally-owned fishing companies, a project very near to her husband’s family). Jill is very much in love with Kit, and while Kit seems to be in love with her he’s also, literally and often figuratively, distant to her. Jill loves her sons, Charlie and Sam (if she had a girl, would she have named her Kristy? Perhaps another son named David Michael?) but their relationship is often strained. Sam endured a tragic event of his own two years prior to the events of the story, and he is struggling with it in a deep way that makes him unreachable to most of the adults in his life.
While I liked Jill as a character and as a person, for the most part, I found Jill as a parent to be so frustrating – that’s likely what made this book difficult for me. I hated almost every interaction she had with her children, for different reasons. I’m sure some part of that is my own fears (my children are in the sweet spot right now – at 9 and 10 years old, they still love me and their dad, need way less from us physically than they did just a few short years ago – leaving me plenty of time for reading again! – and have not yet started that adolescent separation that will inevitably pit them against us). I know parenting a teenager will be hard, so maybe it’s just my fears that are getting to me – maybe this is the way it will be, and like other stages of parenting, it will be okay in the end? But this sounds tortuous. Even when she was getting along with her children, I didn’t like the way Jill was always seeking something from their interactions. Everything she said to them made me cringe, too, not just in embarrassment for someone using “text speak” (something her children plead with her not to use more than once in the novel) but on another level that’s tough for me to describe. She was too tentative, too cloying, too desperate. Overly affectionate and not invested enough. I hate to be anther person piling on and talking shit about Jill’s parenting, but something about her style got to me. It’s quite possible that if I re-read this in 10 years, I’ll have a different perspective on her as a parent, on the way that Sam and Charlie were written (is this an accurate depiction of teenagers?). But this book fell into my hands today, and maybe I just don’t have enough perspective yet.
This is an internally driven novel – there’s not much in the way of plot, but there’s quite a bit of character development. This is a book built on relationships – thus, when I didn’t connect to the central relationship I found the novel was way less successful for me as a reader. However, I could see this book working well for many parents (mothers of teenagers especially, although I don’t think you need to be experiencing the life of the protagonist to enjoy a novel). There is talk of grief, mental health, mentions of suicide and traumatic events involving teenagers (nothing terribly graphic). While the novel delves into a slice of life that isn’t particularly pleasant for Jill, it does ultimately end in hope, never a bad choice.