I haven’t quite put my finger on what it was about Lori Carson’s The Original 1982 that didn’t quite work for me. That is not to say it’s a bad novel, it’s okay. In fact, its very okayness prompted me to write a that column for Book Riot asking how we talk about books that are only okay.
From the description this book is right up my alley: a female singer/songwriter wonders how her life would have changed had she not chosen to end an unplanned pregnancy when she was a young, twenty-something waitress in 1982. And yet. . . this book roused nothing within me.
The book spends a goodly portion of its time with Lisa, the young waitress impregnated by a Latin-music superstar, imagining how things could have been. She addresses the entire book to Minnow, the child she aborted, and in doing this wholly dissipates any sort of tension. There is nothing at stake for Lisa. So why should we continue reading? We already know none of this matters because none of it is real in the imagined world of the story. It’s all just fiction, which seems weird to say about a novel, but it just feels like too much fiction. How am I supposed to care or be invested in the imagined story of an imaginary person by someone who isn’t even real to begin with?
As I’ve espoused many times I’m a big believer in the fictional dream. I want to believe what I’m reading takes place in some world the author has created, but when the author tells me from the get go the entire story exists solely in the imagination of a character I don’t even know yet, it’s hard for me to care.
And yet, I finished the book. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because the writing was decent enough and the world Carson creates is interesting, and I wanted Minnow to be real. Plus, I kept waiting for the music to really infuse the book. It didn’t ever happen and that was a disappointment. Towards the end of the novel we get to the “real” Lisa and how her life actually turned out, but by that time I was so not invested in her it didn’t matter. Perhaps the whole point was for the reader to get to know Lisa through what she wanted and didn’t get? I’m not really sure. It didn’t work for me and in the end kind of felt like a big, dull dud.