Review: On Turpentine Lane

Title: On Turpentine Lane

Author: Elinor Lipman

Goodreads Summary: At thirty-two, Faith Frankel has returned to her claustro-suburban hometown, where she writes institutional thank-you notes for her alma mater. It’s a peaceful life, really, and surely with her recent purchase of a sweet bungalow on Turpentine Lane her life is finally on track. Never mind that her fiancé is off on a crowdfunded cross-country walk, too busy to return her texts (but not too busy to post photos of himself with a different woman in every state.) And never mind her witless boss, or a mother who lives too close, or a philandering father who thinks he’s Chagall. When she finds some mysterious artifacts in the attic of her new home, she wonders whether anything in her life is as it seems. What good fortune, then, that Faith has found a friend in affable, collegial Nick Franconi, officemate par excellence . . . 

Where do I even start with this one? There is definitely a lesson to be learned here about diving into a novel with preconceived notions about it. Allow me to explain:

I always read the back of a book or the inside of the jacket cover just to see if it has an interesting premise, then I read a few pages and determine whether it is worth the buy. I read the inside of this book jacket and I was intrigued! I thought I was about to go into a novel about a women whose seemingly normal and mundane life get shaken when she makes some sort of discovery in her attic, and the first few pages of the novel are very well written, so I bought it.

The thing is, I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

This novel stars Faith Frankel, a thirty-some year old woman who lives in a small town where other residents include her mother, father, and brother. She had a fiancée who was a businessman-turned-hippie or something like that, and her coworker Nick, who she inevitably ends up with.  It seemed as if every plot point led absolutely nowhere. Faith almost gets fired from her job, but doesn’t. Okay. Faith breaks things off with her fiancée and he’s completely irrelevant for the rest of the story. Fine. Her father cheats on and leaves her mother, but they convince him to come back home. Cool.

The whole time I was reading this, I felt like I was waiting for something, anything, to just happen, and I waited, and waited, and waited until wait..? there are no more pages left to turn. The artifacts that Faith finds in her attic? Yeah, try artifact, singular. It was just a photo-album that was empty except for a couple photos, I’d hardly call that an artifact, but I could just be nitpicking. And let me ask you this: if you saw two babies in a photograph, would you assume them dead because their eyes were closed? That is essentially what our protagonist does, and she pretty much launches her own murder-mystery investigation, and the story just gets sloppy from that point on.

Looking back maybe I was wrong to do this, but after reading the book jacket I assumed that the whole bit about the artifacts, or I guess the photos and the murder mystery, would be the main plot and everything would be subplot material. But it wasn’t. The story about the assumed deaths that took place in her home is brought up, then it goes away for a few chapters, then it is brought up again and Faith finds some new information, then we take a break and focus on her cheating father or workplace romance. It was all very sporadic and poorly executed.

I think what bothers me the most is that the novel would have been better without the murder-mystery subplot. Take that out, and you have a slice of life, romantic comedy about a woman, her family, and finding love in interesting places. Everything that was going through Faith’s head was relatable and true, and I enjoyed the presence of her family in the story; the family dynamic was written very well and their interactions felt real. Even the development of Faith’s relationship with Nick felt genuine, and their interactions were the parts of this novel I enjoyed the most.

The writing was good and the characters were authentic, but I was too distracted by the haphazard plot to fully enjoy these things, which is really disappointing. I’m giving this novel 2.5 stars. Sorry.



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