Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Friday, November 19, 2010

"The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud" by Ben Sherwood

My apologies to Ben Sherwood, but this book made me want to gag.

I must admit I came to it with a bad attitude. As if it weren't ghastly enough that my copy of this book has Zac Efron* on the cover, it's supposed to be "one of the most magical love stories I've ever read." Gaaah. Even worse, there's a quote from Nicholas Sparks, King of Shameless Tearjerkers, on the back. My overriding thought was, do I have to read this?

This is kind of a ghost story with all the good, spooky parts taken out. Charlie "I see dead people" St. Cloud lives and works in a cemetery so he can hang out with his ghost of a little brother (gosh, I wish I had one of those). Charlie's life has been on hold for thirteen years so he can keep his promise to Sam that he'll never leave him, and Sam has spent all those years stuck between "here" and "beyond" in order to keep his end of the bargain.

The story itself wasn't so bad, but I had trouble swallowing it--hence the gagging. I had to think for a while before I figured out the reason behind that. Sure, the book is filled with unlikely premises, but I've read and loved less realistic stories (Harry Potter springs to mind). I believe my problem was with the unrealistic characters and dialogue. (Elvis is probably cackling right now, or at least thinking, "I told you so!" He argued during Bel Ami that the "realness" of its characters was a rare thing; I agreed that the characters were very realistic, but didn't think it was so rare.) Charlie St. Cloud was filled with characters who did and said things that no real person would ever do or say. Not only that, but everyone in Charlie's town of Marblehead was undeniably quirky, and you know what they say--when everyone is quirky, no one is.

I feel bad when I don't like a book written by an author who is still living. No, that's not quite right; it isn't disliking a book that is the problem--it's writing about it here. But since I'm probably one of the only people in the world who read this book and didn't care for it, I don't feel so bad. It was just not my kind of book.

If you're wondering why, once again, I have tortured myself with a book I really didn't want to read, there are a few reasons:

1. It was for book club.
2. I didn't choose it. (Don't worry, Lydia, I won't tell anyone who did.)
3. Reading, for me, is like . . . um, yeah. Pizza. Even when it's bad it's good. (To a certain extent.)

What I did like about the book, and what I think will be fun to discuss at book club, was its interesting take on death, grieving, and the spirit world. There were three specific parts that stood out to me, realistic or not. First, Charlie's admission of what he missed most about Sam. ("The feeling that everything is all right in the world.") Second, the concept of dreamwalking. ("We can go right into people's dreams. We can hang out wherever their unconscious takes them. And we can tell them stuff.") Third, the spirits of your loved ones are reaching out to you. ("We all shine on. You just have to release your hearts, alert your senses, and pay attention . . . Notice the little things, because somebody is reaching out to you.")

If nothing else, maybe we'll tell some good ghost stories tonight.

*It's not that Zac Efron is hard to look at; it's just that he doesn't seem especially indicative of quality literature.


Coffee and a Book Chick said...


On the up side, I see you're reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan for December. I so hope you like this one -- it's one of my favorite books, and Lisa See is one of my favorite authors. Keeping my fingers crossed that you like it!

Kathy said...

I haven't actually started reading Snow Flower yet (our mtg isn't until the third Friday of the month, and I like to wait until the last minute so it's fresh in my mind) but I do have high hopes for this one! And I have a copy of Shanghai Girls I need to read soon . . . plus I'm curious about Peony in Love--have you read either of those? I'm betting you have, if See is one of your favorites!

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

You will love Snow Flower! I have read Peony in Love, and that one is just as beautifully written, and although I didn't bawl my eyes out as I did with Snow Flower, but I did cry. Shanghai Girls is sitting on my bookshelf and I don't know why I haven't read it yet!

I had a chance to listen to Lisa See when she spoke at the local independent bookstore by me -- she was so engaging! And, she responds to all emails -- quite a nice thing to see from an established author, you know?

Kathy said...

Oooh, Snow Flower made you bawl? Sounds like it will test my famous resistance to tears.

I wish cool people came to my town. In fact, I wish my town had an independent bookstore . . .

Lyd-ee-ah said...

:( Apparently my contribution to book club is going to be picking books that people don't like. Maybe ya'll should revoke my book picking card. lol. I did not love the book, but I did not hate it either. It was recommended to me by someone else who thought it was a great book.

Kathy said...

Haha! You're worth much more than that. When you remember to come to Book Club. ;) Really, if you think about it, no one has picked a book that everyone has liked yet. SO it's not all you!! Plus--it's good for me to read books I don't especially care for. Helps me refine my tastes. :)