December 2, 2007
I can’t believe how much I wanted to read this book. I coveted it when it was in hardback, read reviews of it obsessively, and finally allowed myself to buy it in paperback. Then it sat on my shelves for a few months because of all the high-priority stuff that had stacked up in front of it.
I loved the concept (quarantined Pacific Northwest town in the time of the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918), the setting, the reviews I’d read.
But, strangely, I didn’t really enjoy the book. For one, Mullen’s writing style is not my thing. He tends to say hokey things like “bullets slammed into flesh” and begins a lot of sentences with “Many a night” which feels somewhat stilted and archaic. He’ll repeat the same word several times within a few sentences or paragraphs (e.g. “banter”).
It’s not a bad book, but it doesn’t feel as polished or as meaningful as I would have expected, given all the good press. There is something about it, maybe the overemphasis on Douglas firs, that makes it obvious that the writer doesn’t live ’round here (Pac NW). There is no dearth of grimness in the novel, either, and a surprising amount of violence–neither of which is bad on its own but feels harsh when following a lot of not-terribly-well-written chapters.
The historical fiction aspect is not bad, and feels well-researched, though the speaking patterns of the characters doesn’t feel quite dated enough to seem 1918-ish. The plot is good, and is the driving force of the book. It twists enough to make this a page-turner, almost enough to make it feel like a horror novel in a few places.
I had recommended that my book club read this book a few months ago, but would probably not recommend it now. It’s just not special enough.