Forever is the Worst Long Time: A Novel by Camille Pagan (Lake Union, $24.95, 276 pages)
“It’s so hard to make love pay/ When you’re on the losing end/ And I feel that way again…” Neil Young
When struggling novelist James Hernandez meets poet Louisa “Lou” Bell, he’s sure he’s just found the love of his life. There’s just one problem: she’s engaged to his best and oldest friend, Rob. So James becomes Rob’s Best Man, toasting the union of Rob and Lou and hiding his desire for The Perfect Woman.
With this setup, one can pretty much guess what’s coming in this third novel from author Pagan (Life and Other Near-Death Experiences, The Art of Forgetting). And one’s guess would be right about half of the time. Pagan adds some unexpected twists and turns that help to keep the story somewhat interesting. The plot line is not the problem.
The tone of the story, the narrator’s voice, is where difficulties arise. It’s sometimes problematic when a male author adopts a female voice, and vice versa. It is an issue here. This book is written in the form of a journal – a document to be read by James’ daughter in order to learn about her past. (Novels in the form of journals seem to be the latest craze.) The journal reads in a flat tone; in fact, it begins to drone on like a car on the freeway stuck in second gear. Yes, early on Pagan shifts from first to second, but the reader mourns the absence of third, fourth, and overdrive in this journey of almost 300 pages.
And then there’s the issue of humor. It was absent in this work which felt overly dramatic. One of the strengths of bestselling authors like Elizabeth Berg and Jennifer Weiner – writers who similarly deal with love, loss and redemption – is that they enliven their stories with stress-relieving humor. (This enables the reader to relax and avoid the feeling of reading a one note soap opera.)
“This story ends with loss,” said your mother. “I’m only on the first chapter, but I can tell.”
Basically, this novel proves the truth of the notion that you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. I hope that in her future works Pagan adds more life to her tales and spirit and volume. Reading this book, for me, was like trying to listen to music being played in a far-off room. The experience was muffled.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
This book was released on February 7, 2017.
On the writing of Elizabeth Berg and Jennifer Weiner:
“Home Safe (by Berg) is written with humor and elegance.” – Chicago Tribune
“Home Safe explores, with insight and humor, what it’s like to lose everything and to emerge from the other side.” – St. Petersburg Times
“Hilarious, heartbreaking, and insightful, Weiner shows she can write with exquisite tenderness as well as humor.” – The Miami Herald