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By Lenore Zion
Reviewed by Travis Fortney
This is the second just-released bizarro novel about a cult that I have read and reviewed this week, and I would urge readers who are curious about Lenore Zion's Stupid Children to instead purchase Fiona Maazel's Woke Up Lonely, which I had my reservations about but is the far superior novel of the two. Readers who have read Ms. Maazel's novel and are looking for something in a similar vein, I would advise to look elsewhere or broaden their horizons.
The main problem with Stupid Children--not that there aren't many, many problems with the book's concept plot and characters--is loose writing and poor editing. To choose a passage at random from the beginning of the book, take the following: "My father had a problem with insomnia for many years--specifically through the years during which I was preparing to break into early adolescence."
The most glaring problem with that sentence is that there are many ways to say the same thing in far fewer words. For example: "When I was a preteen, my father had a problem with insomnia."
Or, more simply: "My father was an insomniac."
After all, at that point in the book we already know the narrator's approximate age. Not to be too blunt, but a large part of a writer's work is deciding when to use five words and when to use fourteen. Even worse, the above sentence is directly followed by this: "I was seven, eight, nine years old, and he came into my bedroom in the middle of the night to shake me awake."
Which conveys, again, the narrator's age and the fact that her father is awake in the night, along with the new information that he wakes her. So, really, the first sentence could be cut altogether. If it seems like I'm making an argument for a certain kind of minimalism, I'm not. With the first sentence, gone, the writer could use the opportunity to fill the space with an interesting detail that might pull us deeper into the story. For example: "When I was in the third grade, my insomniac father would come into my bedroom bristly-necked and smelling of blackberries and kneel beside me until I woke."
Not a perfect sentence maybe--certainly there are more interesting details available--but it accomplishes what the other two sentences do in approximately half the space, is more specific, and provides an interesting detail. It draws the reader into the scene rather than killing story's momentum by drawing attention to the negative qualities of the writing itself.
I wouldn't usually pick apart a pair of sentences like that, but the writing really is the problem with Stupid Children, and sadly, those sentences aren't among the worst in the book. A book this short shouldn't feel so long and cumbersome.
I know that there's been a certain amount of positive chatter around this book in the form of reviews at a few websites, a spot on a certain book club, and blurbs by well-known established authors. If you already own a copy of Stupid Children because of this, cheer up, because reading it could prove to be an important event in your life as a reader--I promise you, you'll never again mistake a little generated buzz for the real thing.
Out of 10: 6.0