So Long at the Fair: A Novel
by Christina Schwarz
As I prepared to write my thoughts on So Long At The Fair I found myself staring at the book's cover with my mind a blank slate. It's not an inspired design, this cover art, just a lake with some balloons floating over it. They're obviously Photoshopped balloons; they don't reflect in the water of the lake and the string hanging off a solo red balloon is angled awkwardly. I'm not sure why the illustrator thought them necessary. They're just sort of there.
Like the weary helium orbs, this book is just sort of there. It's absolutely bland and inoffensive. Christina Schwarz's prose is lyrical and easy to read. Your eyes glide easily from page to page, words flowing easily, but you're just drifting through the story. Never does your heart beat with suspense, nor will tears form as the tragedy rips into your soul. There is no laugh-out-loud, side-splitting hilarity. Instead, it is...tired. Like a photograph that's been placed by a sunny window for many years, everything – plot, characters, conversations, clichés – feels worn and a little bit faded.
The story takes place in a small town over several narratives. Schwarz jumps between two generations, first telling the story of Clark, Marie, Bud and Hattie one summer in 1963. In order to avenge her friend Hattie's trauma, Marie seduces a former boyfriend, which devastates her husband Bud and kills his potential golf career. Jumping forward to the present, we meet Bud's son Jon, a man cheating on his wife with a co-worker who is also involved with an obsessive, controlling man named Ethan. She also explores the thirty years between the generations, briefly, in short flashbacks blended into the present-day narrative. I guess the story's about dysfunctional relationships, but even with all these twisted, convoluted connections there's no life. The most passionate moments are lackluster and lost. I think that, if this were a television or a movie, we would say that the actors were “phoning in” their performances. None of the characters are successfully realized.
This book isn't good enough to be memorable. It isn't bad enough to be mocked. It feels extreme to call it a waste of time, but that is precisely what I think it is. If you read this, I can promise that you will not remember it in a year, or even six months. It won't change your life in any way; indeed, I think footsteps in a beach's sand make a more lasting impression. Skip this book.