Writing about Reading: Liberation Movements

October 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

Olen Steinhauer’s fourth novel in the Yalta series is an experiment on the author’s part, and sometimes experiments don’t work. I won’t go so far as to call Liberation Movements a failed experiment, but it isn’t entirely successful, either.

The problem with the novel isn’t that it plays with time. I actually enjoy a story that is told out of sequential order when it serves the plot and is handled adeptly. Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite films, and part of the reason I love it is the way Tarantino plays with the chronology. Liberation Movements does the same thing, but with a better effect, as secrets are revealed at the moment in which they have the  most impact.

I don’t have a problem with the story, either. Like all of Steinhauer’s other novels, it is a tense story with several twists, and just when you think you’ve got it figured out, it turns on you.

The characters, too, are well wrought. It seems everyone in Steinhauer’s world has marital issues, which starts to wear thin in this novel. But as Chekov so famously wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Steinhauer’s unhappy families are no exception, so it’s not as if the author reusing the same marriage issues. It just seems, at times, as if Steinhauer feels like every major character has to have a troubled relationship of some kind as a back story or subplot. But it works, and isn’t what really bothered me about the book.

The problem I had with Liberation Movements is the fact that Steinhauer mixes points of view. There are several point-of-view characters, and the focus shifts with each new chapter. So far, so good. Most are told in third-person, but a few chapters in Steinhauer introduces Katja’s POV, and switches to first-person. There seemed to be no good reason for it; unlike The Confession, Katja wasn’t creating a historical document or even keeping a journal.

The net effect was that it jarred me out of the story every few chapters and reminded me that I was reading a book. Katja’s chapters are big, jagged seams in an otherwise seamless story. I imagine Steinhauer wanted to make her story more personal or give it more emotional impact, and he thought first-person POV would accomplish that. Sadly, it did not. Katja’s story would have just as much impact if it were told in third-person as first. It might have had more impact in third-person, actually, since the reader’s immersion in the story wouldn’t have been interrupted.

It’s still a good book, don’t get me wrong. The story is very compelling, especially with the jumbled chronology helping to build the suspense. But it could have been better, and as such, is so far the weakest of the series.

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