The Garden of Last Days: A Novel by Andre Dubus III
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I am so glad to be done with this book. Sadly, it was the second dark, depressing book I've read in a row. Now I will be taking a break by catching up on my magazines (More, Time, and Entertainment Weekly)!
Technically, the writing was fine, but it's not a style I particularly enjoy--each chapter's perspective jumped from character to character, and it also went back in time. Dubus included way too many characters, and they are entirely unlikeable but I believe are meant to be somewhat sympathetic:
--April, A stripper/single mom who takes her 3-year-old daughter to work one night because her child care falls through
--Jean, the older woman who takes care of 3-year-old Franny when her mom is at work
--Various unsavory characters from the strip club, including a bouncer who takes a shine to April
--A 9/11 terrorist, who spends hundreds of dollars on private dances at the strip club, alternating between fundamentalist Islamic hatred and sleaziness and sex obsessions (I found his chapters to be the least compelling and most disturbing)
--AJ, a drunk, dishonest wife beater who thinks he's helping by taking said 3-year-old away from the strip club
--AJ's estranged wife, an unhappy woman with a weight problem who feels ambivalent about her husband
--AJ's mother, another unhappy woman, who had AJ as a result of a rape
--3-year-old Franny herself, who is terrified when she can't find her mother
Those characters alone should indicate why I didn't enjoy this book. Why did I keep reading, you ask? Good question!
The reviewers really liked this book. (What do reviewers know?) Before I read it, I thought it was interesting that clean-cut married man and father-of-3 Dubus went undercover at these sleazy Florida strip clubs to research this book (with the permission of his wife). He did an excellent job of setting the story in Florida, in all its hot and seedy glory. Apparently the story is based on the reality of the 9/11 terrorists' last few days in Florida, spending money drinking and carousing at strip clubs.
He colorfully depicts the violence and hatred toward women inherent in the sex and exotic dancing trades, and what is especially interesting in the end is that the women end up in better situations than the men do...in spite of their difficult circumstances.
After reading this book and Strange Piece of Paradise before that, I need to read some more upbeat books to brighten my outlook on the human race.
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