Saturday, March 8, 2014

The End of the Line by Jim Power

The End of the Line by Jim Power is a hard book to review.  In some ways, I want to applaud the book, and in other ways, I want to warn readers away from it.  It reminds me of the kid on the baseball team who just lacks the polish of the other players.  You want him to play, but it is nearly painful to watch his lack of coordination.  Bad analogy maybe, it fits.
            Let’s start with what was done well.  First, I loved the premise.  Latesha is a college student who lives with her wheelchair-bound father. They live in the community of Beechwood, a historic black community in Nova Scotia.  This is notable because the “end of the line”, which is in this community, was the end of the line for the Underground Railroad.  Latesha is a direct descendant of these original settlers.
            Latesha needs to raise some money for her family and she decides that she will start her own matchmaking business.  Never you mind that she has no money for start-up costs, no computer program to match people up, and no clients.  This will be the perfect thing for her to make enough money to pay down some family expenses.  While at college one day, she meets Peter Elsworth, a blue collar (but educated man).  There are some mild sparks, but nothing major.  Imagine Latesha’s surprise when Peter calls the matchmaking service later, looking for a date.  Latesha has to scramble to find him one—when really, she is very interested in him.  But she knows that her father will never accept her dating a white man.  Through a series of events, they keep getting put together and sparks begin to fly.
            Up until this point, I was on-board.  Lovely setting, history lesson, quirky premise, clean romance—all my reading catnip, so to speak.  I was also pretty happy to read an interracial romance.  With the abundance of interracial relationships in the world today, I am surprised that more authors don’t write about them.  Unfortunately, the interracial romance angle is where The End of the Line fell apart.
            More than half of the characters in this book were flaming racists.  Whatever you imagine “flaming” to be, multiply it by 10.  There were skinheads, “cracker” references, characters that said “the blacks”—just to name a few.  When was this book set?  It was unclear, and I acknowledge that racism still exists, but if all of these things were happening in this community, they have an extremely large population of the most racist people on planet Earth.  These characters in this book were over the top, unrealistic, extremely plentiful, and had no problem spouting off, shooting people, or disowning their own children for dating a person of another race.  I think that Power was trying to make a point here, but it fell completely flat for me.  Instead of taking the issue of interracial relationships seriously and realistically presenting the challenges and benefits, it became all about battling the extreme racists everywhere.
            In the midst of this, both Peter’s mother and Latesha’s father vehemently object to ANY romance between the two.  Honestly, you would have thought each of them were trying to date a serial killer by the amount of fuss these parents put up.  I am not exaggerating when I say that about 40 pages was dedicated to the spouting off of the parents about how they would never speak to their child again if they dated outside their race, how they (Latesha and Peter) decided to break off their romance because of their parents, or how they could not see each other. Despite the fact that both Peter and Latesha are profoundly decent people, they put up with this nonsense from their parents and in some ways play along (particularly Latesha, who breaks up with Peter more times than I can count.) 
            The final straw comes when Latesha and Peter play Romeo and Juliet in a community play.  I forget now, but one their parents didn’t realize there is a kiss between Romeo and Juliet.  Really?  I think everyone knows that.  That’s when the racists really come out to play.  There is a lot of “If you kiss that black girl, I will never speak to you again” nonsense.  This goes on for pages, and pages, and pages.
            All of this served to completely negate the point I think the author was trying to make.  The heavy handed, trite, dire racism angles (all overused, in my opinion) took away from a great opportunity to show the more subtle forms of racism that exist and how a couple can work together to overcome. 
            The plot really slowed down after the last third of the book—bogged down by “will they stay together or won’t they?” histrionics.  I felt as though I was in a time loop.  Every thirty pages or so sounded exactly like the thirty pages before it.  The dialogue was not moving the story along, and neither was the plot, so I felt as though I was just treading water until the next extreme over-the-top event.  The “resolution” to the racial problem is partially solved by an enormous amount of money.  Latesha’s dad gets a HUGE payday (for rather justified reasons, but still unrealistic) and it seems as though his life is back on track.  Also unrealistic was Latesha, finally having a civil conversation with Peter’s mother, that somehow ends up with them changing from their bathing suits in full view of each other.  Really?  Peter’s mother hates her, but is willing to go to a creek in a historically black town and get naked in front of her?  Really.
            Finally, since I read this on my Kindle, I must mention formatting problems.  (I am not sure if this has been fixed.)  The work is not divided into paragraphs correctly.  Most paragraphs go on for at least half a page, with one character’s dialogue right next to another’s.  Paragraph breaks are either in improper places or non-existent.  It is quite difficult to read.
            There is a kernel of a good story here, but The End of the Line desperately needs an editor.  It also needs to take it down a few notches. There was such an opportunity for a charming, yet serious book about great characters.  Unfortunately, like that kid on the baseball team, it is just not ready to play first string.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Regina

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