bookpost: The Wonder Book of the Air by by Cynthia Shearer

Shearer's novel starts incredibly strong, following a shoeshine boy in 1930s rural Georgia who develops hopes and dreams through an eccentric uncle and in spite of the Great Depression and a dysfunctional family. It becomes a saga of his family, each chapter told from a different point of view. As we follow him through his early years and military career before World War 2 really begins, it is fresh and lively.

Then it turns dark. He becomes abusive and his wife becomes a neglectful victim. Basically the rest of the novel is about people with failed romantic lives, and the point seems to be to cast doubt on the efficacy of love. All of the men find their lives empty and tend toward unfaithfulness while the women feel trapped and resent their children. At some point, a character spells out what seems to be the author's point: that a family will make men and women unhappy, so better to see the whole thing as a social function and not to expect happiness from it.

I'm generally sympathetic toward novels with these themes, but the darkness and bitterness seemed ham-fisted and unconvincing. Most of the characters fall into stereotypes of their gender roles, or the author's concept of their gender roles, and so I found their plights uninteresting. The early chapters offered so much promise, but then the book faded into a sort of polemic. Some of the later chapters were OK as well, especially the ones involving the protagonist's granddaughter. But the chapters are maybe better read as independent stories without the need to develop a substantial arc.

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