Weldon's latest book, RHODE ISLAND BLUES, takes Sophia, a
34-year-old film editor whose aging grandmother has decided to go
into a nursing home and follows her on the strange odyssey she
makes as she learns more and more about her family life. When
grandmother Felicity calls her to the decidedly unglamorous shores
of Rhode Island due to illness, Sophia leaves behind her exciting
if a little empty life in the London film world and comes to
America. An unsuspecting traveler, she meets up with some pretty
strange situations when she gets here.
This is Weldon's 36th book --- yes, that's right, 36.
She isn't that old yet so she has been working very hard. But in
recent years, she has been unable to match the temper and tenacity
of her book THE LIFE AND LOVES OF A SHE-DEVIL, known on this shore
for a rather ill-fated movie adaptation. The book, full of piss and
vinegar, as they say, showed Weldon's exacted commitment to writing
about women's lives in a viscerally honest and imaginative way.
RHODE ISLAND BLUES tries to follow in that path but, ultimately,
doesn't succeed quite as well.
The story of the woman and her grandmother is very
uncomplicated --- but the endless cast of supporting characters
becomes too dense, too difficult to follow after a while. Weldon
writes in these intense little snippets, and it takes forever for
her to get through one person's story so that something else can
happen. It's an unfortunate, burdensome approach --- the main story
calls for simpler statements. Particularly when you find out that
there has been child molestation in the family history, just one of
the many obstacles Sophia must hurdle if she wishes to maintain a
little bit of her family legacy.
Some of the side stories are particularly gruesome and
strange --- like the one about the nurse in charge of the old
folks' home, who not only indulges the head doctor in his bizarre
little sadomasochistic fantasies but also kills the irritating and
less profitable of the patients. Sophia's journey looks weak in
RHODE ISLAND BLUES is set in a place where Weldon doesn't
seem quite comfortable. Although there are moments of great clarity
between the grandmother and granddaughter that keep the reader
moving through the book, one is constantly looking for more of
these episodes and less of the side stories. Hopefully, next time
around, Weldon will stick to the main story and we'll all be the
happier for it.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 23, 2011