Friday, November 1, 2019

Review - The Carousel Painter

Original Title: The Carousel Painter
Series: -
Author: Judith McCoy Miller
Published: September 1st, 2009

Publisher: Bethany House Publishers

This may be one of the worst books I’ve ever read in the historical fiction genre. And I’m not happy to say it, but the word that describes it entirely, in every possible level, is obvious. I confess that what initially drew me in was the idea of the carousel horses, the carvings, the art and painting that all of it involved, because I simply love when the protagonist in historical fiction is an artist. There’s a special feel to it, that I enjoy very much. The descriptions of the horses, the colours and the method to create them, and later the other animals they design for the carousel, are simply beautiful. And sadly, that was the best part. A book needs more than that. As I read, I discovered myself wanting to finish it, just to be done with it and move on.

I honestly don’t understand the glowing, positive reviews on this book. Perhaps it is me, that I’m too demanding with the novels I pick up, but I couldn’t like this, and there was no way around it. There were so many ridiculous aspects, and silly characters, that I just… No. Just no. And it’s not like the plot in general didn’t have potential to be great, but it was very poorly executed. I’m sorry to say it, but it is the truth.

The story takes place in Ohio, but I so wish the whole thing had been set in Paris, where Carrie Brouwer grew up! It’s the art capital of the world, after all. I get that the author needed to take Carrie out of her known world, to introduce the plot, but apart from the fact that she lived with her father in Paris as he taught art, we don’t really know her. Her mother died when she was younger, after taking her to church and being the Christian parent in the household, and her father was a devoted artist who paid more attention to his paintbrushes than to his daughter (cliché?). I honestly thought we were going to know them better, for Carrie to understand them and make peace with the shortcomings and difficulties she went through in Paris, but that’s all there is. And since the rest of the characters in the entire book are plain depthless, I guess I couldn’t expect more from two people who are dead and only live in the protagonist’s memory.

Carrington Brouwer, the lead lady, felt the entire time like a cardboard character, weakened by her circumstances, but without the will to make her life count. I understand the low-profile personality, but this is not it. Apart from finding work (“to buy food”, as she claims, when actually the Galloways pay her rent), she doesn’t have any goals in life, and most of the time, she tells us about her past in Paris and her parents, in snippets from information that are not useful to follow the plot. She just sees life happening around her, without really acting on it. When she was suspected of the robbery, she did nothing to prove she wasn’t guilty, or defend herself, and neither when the other workers and their wives threatened her. Circumstances just aligned for her to be out of trouble, for the convenience of the plot. Don’t believe me? Look: when the angry wives of the factory workers wanted to drag her with them to make her pay for not leaving, she ended up saving a kid’s life, out of nowhere, and that brought the women’s tolerance. And when she was proven innocent of the robberies, it was through the actions and decisions of others, instead of her fighting to defend her claim.

As for the other characters in the entire book, they are flat and pretty much inconsequential. They are just background noise. They have no depth, and no personality, except for some very superficial characterisation. Take Carrie’s friend, Augusta Galloway, for example. She’s the stereotype of the rich, selfish, spoiled girl, who is just vain and focused on frivolities, like dresses and parties, and of course, flirting. Her entire personality is being obsessed with Tyson Farnsworth, and doing everything she can to catch him. And that’s it. There’s nothing else about her, and I don’t know why I expected more. When she took Carrie to the park to speak in private, after the whole robbery thing, I honestly thought she would say something important, but she just falsely accused Carrie of going after Tyson, when she knew she liked him. Every word that comes out of her mouth has to do with herself, and that’s not only stupid, but also immature, from a person who knows there are more serious matters going on around her.

Along the same lines, Mrs. Galloway –Augusta’s mother– is just a rich woman who’s only desire and goal in life is climbing up the social ladder, and maintaining a positive image in front of her equally rich acquaintances. Nothing more. She’s mean to Carrie, but only because having her in her home could ruin her chances to do just that. What a shame would be if his son ended up marrying her, the penniless daughter of a very poor, bohemian artist! And that is her complete essence. As for Augusta’s father, he goes down the same road. He’s kinder than his wife, but we don’t know anything about him. He says he’s ill, but not what ails him, and I didn’t care in the least when he said he had to move in search of a healthier lifestyle, taking his family with him, and giving up the carousel factory.

And those are not the only bad things about the Galloways. Rich people in general, in this book, are like demonized. Because they are wealthy, all their descriptions and traits are negative, being presented as vain, selfish, mean-spirited, only caring for money, etc. And yes, granted, those people exist. But you can’t put everyone in the same bag like this. You can’t possible judge everyone without knowing their circumstances, and if you draw all those conclusions simply because they have more money than others… It’s just stupid, and sends a very bad message. Thanks for the warning, but no thanks.

As for Josef Kaestner, the love interest, his entire life is the factory, and going to church on Sunday. There’s some peeking into his past, but it’s not enough to understand him, and get a better look to the reasons behind his actions. Out of nowhere, he starts liking Carrie, after tearing apart her work in the factory for a long time, and eventually he falls in love with her; but this man is so expressionless, that it was really hard to tell! And I don’t interpret that as the personality traits of a shy, reserved, and possibly distrustful man. I just think he’s poorly written. Other than a few smiles here and there, his truly emotional moment came way too late, at the very last line of the book, when he takes Carrie, kisses her and spins her around, happy because they are engaged to be married. And that is not enough for me to believe their love. By that point, I was already too bored to care, wanting to finish the book once and for all.

As for Mrs. Wilson, she’s practically a cartoon. She’s a good woman, but her entire character consists of being a bad cook, and saying one or two not-so-funny lines here and there. Same as Mr. Lundgren, the other tenant in her boardinghouse. They are there all the time, but they do absolutely nothing for the plot. I could take them away from the book almost without disturbing the storyline. Same with Gunter, the new painter in the factory, who is a completely useless character, if there ever was one.

As for Tyson, the villain, he’s presented as a cad and a scoundrel since the first moment he appears, and nothing he says or does changes that. He has no personality besides that. It was the most obvious thing in the world he was behind the robberies, I never doubted that for a minute, although I really hoped for a plot twist by the end that would prove me wrong. He is just what we see he is. A flirty, shameless man who takes revenge on others when he can’t get his way. A very immature personality, that coincides with a person who is, guess what? Rich.

In general, the narration in this book is kind of unnerving, because some things are just so exaggerated, that border stupidity. One of those moments was when Carrie, in a hurry, is running and collides with Tyson, unintentionally hitting him, and upon that she says:

He was still on his feet, so I assumed I hadn’t killed him.

Oh my God *face palm* Did she actually think she had killed him? I had to read that twice just to make sure. I mean, she just bumped into him, and may have caused him some pain, but to the point of wondering if he’s still alive? Don’t be ridiculous, I’m begging you! And that happens all over the book. Excessive drama in moments that don’t justify it. Or false expectations. Like Augusta’s mother, who does nothing more than talking about the housewarming party she will host in her new mansion, and because it was so important, I thought something relevant would happen there, or that it would go wrong in some way. But nothing did, and I was very surprised, because, after the way it was mentioned and talked about, I really thought the wrap up of the story would take place there, with the solving of the mystery, and all that. But of course, it didn’t.

The mystery doesn’t deserve the name. It was completely predictable, with a culprit that could be spotted from miles away. A true plot twist would have been Augusta’s father being responsible, because he was in need of money to leave to his family after his passing due to his illness. But no. As for the thief’s identity, I really thought it would be Frances, the Galloways’ servant, as it made a lot more sense than placing the blame on a oh, so casually similar woman who could have been Carrie’s sister, but does not appear one single time or has one single line of dialogue in the entire book. We don’t know who she is, where Tyson got her from, or anything, for that matter. She was an unknown person, apparently named Georgia, and working alongside Tyson, she was guilty the whole time… WHAT??

No. No! Just… no.

I guess now is the time to talk about the romance, and sadly, I have nothing good to say about it. Carrie and Josef have no chemistry at all, and they fall in love because the author said so. There’s nothing there that makes me see why they are attracted to each other, what is that they share (apart from the carousel horses) that creates such closeness, and eventually leads to their engagement. And the narration, just as I said before, it’s just plain obvious and exaggerated, origin of more face-palms and eye-rolls than I care to admit. Nothing changes after Carrie and Josef first kiss, and the fact that Josef still mixes German words with English wasn’t an excuse for him to never say a meaningful sentence. He talks like he’s retarded, in an almost robotic way.

At one point, Carrie says “His smile radiated warmth, and in one fleeting moment, I decided he was the kind of man who would make a good husband.

Oh, my God, this is so obvious! And it comes out of, literally, nowhere! It’s not sweet, or tender, it borders insta-love, and makes me want to slap Carrie in the face with full force. It’s too much telling when it should be showing. And when Josef takes her to the dance floor, she feels strongly and thinks: “I must regain control of my emotions.” *face palm* This woman has no reason to drown her feelings, because there are no real consequences that could come from her relationship with this guy. In addition, I don’t think this had to be put like that. By recurring to showing, this shouldn’t need to be told. I should be able to see it in the physical response of her body, or her reactions to things, or in a million other ways, all of them better than this writing choice.

Also, at a certain scene before a dance Carrie can’t attend, Josef asks her if she’s jealous because he’s going without her, teasing her with the idea of him falling for another woman, and she thinks:

I had been worried some attractive young lady would steal his heart. I just didn’t want Josef to know it!

This may be my biggest eye roll in the history of eye-rolls. And I mean… What? So damn obvious it makes me sick! But, see what I mean? She talks like a teenage girl with a crush, and their conversations have no depth, no getting to know one another… Nothing that justifies their fondness, and much less their engagement.

And later, she says the only thing I agree with, upon her unexpected feelings for Josef:

I couldn’t love someone I barely knew”.

Exactly. You can’t. And that is another reason why the love story feels so forced and makes no sense. Josef shows himself jealous a couple of times, but it never lasts, and no matter what they did, I couldn’t care for him, or Carrie, or their relationship, especially after that firework-worthy first kiss that did not change anything with them.

Well, enough of that.

Oh, yes, and adding to the list of things that stink of convenience –neither there is any explanation around it–, I don’t understand how, all the sudden, Carrie’s father’s paintings became valuable and were worth millions, and none of the potential buyers thought about contacting her about them. I mean, she was the artist’s only living relative, after all, right? But since this book throws logic out of the window most of the time, I shouldn’t have expected anything in that regard.

And finally, a word on the Christian values exposed in this book. Don’t get me wrong, though. I wasn’t bothered by their presence, and the fact that both Carrie and Josef want to trust God and let Him do His work in their lives and situations, is perfectly ok. What I didn’t like was that they are both constantly scolding themselves because of those parts of their personalities that, according to them, are wrong: Carrie’s pride, and Josef’s anger. And the author takes it way too far. Being proud of your work, and the talents you possess, isn’t wrong, and neither is being angry in the face of complicated situations. None of that makes you a worse or better Christian. The problem comes when those things rule your life and determine the decisions you make, and the consequences they bring along, both upon yourself and others. But the interpretation written in this book is very simplistic, and even unfair. I mean, none of us are perfect, and we all have faults we wish we didn’t. But taking pride on what you do –in this case, Carrie’s artwork– is a part of loving yourself. I understand humility, and being low-profile, which is Carrie’s case, but the way pride is presented here, I mean… *sigh of defeat*. It’s a fault that needs to be corrected. It’s like Josef practically expects her not to talk at all about her art in positive terms, because that’s boasting. Or even trample over herself and her work to prove she doesn’t have that much pride. And that notion is simply ridiculous.

I think that’s it. I wish I could talk more about this book, but the characters and the plot are so lacking and hollow that, honestly, there is not much else to say. I don’t like ranting like this, but this is one of those books that ask for it. Will I give the author another chance? I don’t know. Maybe. But not in the near future.

See you next time!


Post a Comment