Saturday, February 09, 2008

50 Book Challenge #8: The Accidental

The Accidental is one of the those "good for you" books that I've been meaning to read for a while. One of the main characters has my name, which was a little off-putting, but the second time I checked it out from the library I actually got around to reading it.

The writing is masterful. Smith alternates between characters, focusing on a different member of the family in every chapter, and exploring their relationship to Amber, a youngish woman who walks into their holiday rental one day and makes herself at home. At first, everyone thinks she's the guest of someone else; eventually, they find out she isn't but let her stay anyway. She seduces the son, breaks the daughter's obsessive connection with interposing her camcorder between herself and life, stymies the academic lothario father by ignoring him completely, and subtly provokes the mother until she's finally thrown out. But even after she leaves, she turns their life upside down one last time.

The characters are incredibly, even annoyingly realistic; the daughter is insufferable, the son a perfectly ignored and perfectly self-obsessed teenager, the father an exceptionally well-drawn exemplar of homo academicus lotharius, and the mother an aloof hack haunted by her hackdom. The writing style changes with each chapter, and the sonnet sequence in the middle of the book documenting the father's fixation on Amber is one of the best uses of poetry-as-prose I've seen since Darlington's Fall. There are many virtues to this novel. If, however, you allow silly questions like "why would anyone let a total stranger remain in their home?" to niggle at you, the book may prove somewhat unsatisfying. Recommended to lovers of fine writing.
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