Other elements: writers, betrayal, alcohol, the publishing industry, writer-ly angst, marriage, love, the nature of fiction.
Read it: if you love books about writers.
Overall rating: 6.25/10
My feelings about this book are multi-layered. I enjoyed reading the majority of it, but it left me with a very strong “wait, what?” feeling at the end that has ended up overshadowing most of what I liked about it.
David Samuel Levinson can certainly write. His descriptions of both characters and locations are piercingly vivid. He’s also a master of the slow reveal – as the book progressed, I could see where there were secrets in the characters’ lives but it took me almost the entire novel to know what most of those secrets were. It was deliciously and naturally drawn out. It’s a pet peeve of mine when an author gives away all of the characters’ secrets all at once, and Levinson achieved the wonderful opposite of that.
As a bookish and writer-ly person, I also enjoyed that most of this book revolved around writing and publishing. The several authorial characters all have different writing styles and quirks, which I liked. There are many elements in favor of Antonia Lively Breaks The Silence being excellent. So what happened?
Two-thirds of the way through the book, there’s a point of view shift from Catherine, who until then was clearly the protagonist, to Antonia. I don’t know if it was because I was seeing her through Antonia’s eyes, but Catherine suddenly seemed like a completely different person. After this point, Catherine became sort of pathetic and I cringed a little bit reading about her. It also felt like too dramatic a shift to be simply a question of point-of-view, like perhaps the author had changed his mind about Catherine part way through and never gone back to make early Catherine less likable. It made me question everything I thought I had understood about what was going on, and not in a good way.
That was my first step away from this book. I still kept going – I wanted to know what happened, and I still enjoyed reading it. I’m glad I did, because one of the most spectacularly dramatic and brilliant scenes of the novel occurs near the end, in a New York restaurant. More secrets are revealed, and they deepen and enrich the story…until the very end.
A final secret is revealed in the very last chapter, which is so far removed from the rest of the book that it feels like an epilogue. And this final secret…to call it jarring would be an understatement. It was completely out of the blue. There’s surprising, and then there’s “you forgot to tie this in to the rest of your novel.” This felt like the latter. This strange and off-putting ending diminished my previously positive feelings about the entire novel, which I now saw as a buildup to something ridiculous.
There’s a lot to like about Antonia Lively Breaks The Silence but I have to say that I don’t believe it works as an overall novel. However, this author’s talent was obvious enough even in this flawed work that I’d definitely try something else of his. Has anyone else out there read this book? What did you think of the ending? I’d love to hear other opinions.
My thanks to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for providing me with a copy of this book for review.