Elizabeth Kelly – Apologize, Apologize!
Read By: Jeff Woodman
Length: 10h 16m (336 pages)
Genre: Literary Fiction
Started: 15 April 2009
Finished: 21 April 2009
Collie wants to be
normal, but what’s “normal” in
his crazy family?
Summary: Collie Flanagan just wants a normal childhood. However, his family is about the farthest thing from normal that you can get. They live on Martha’s Vineyard, and are extraordinarily wealthy, thanks to his newspaper mogul grandfather, known to everyone as The Falcon. His mother is a dog-loving Marxist. His father is an Irish Catholic philanderer and drunk. His Uncle Tom raises racing pigeons, and makes Collie answer obscure trivia questions to prove his intellectual merit. His younger brother, Bingo, is the golden boy troublemaker: he refuses to play by the rules, and everyone loves him all the more for it – while disparaging the comparably bland Collie. Irresponsibility, drama, and general craziness run rampant, and Collie must struggle to find his own way into adulthood – and his own place within his family.
Review: While Elizabeth Kelly’s debut novel is probably not something I would have picked off the shelf under my own power, it was a thoroughly refreshing change of pace from my normal fare, and promises good things to come from this author in the future. Kelly’s writing is bitingly sharp and venomously funny, equally at home with Collie’s self-deprecating pathos and his mother’s acerbic quips. The story’s an interesting take on a fairly standard coming-of-age tale; it reminded me somewhat of Running with Scissors, although the Flanagans are a different flavor of crazy… and fictional, of course. The “young man comes to grips with his family and himself” story thread mostly stays away from the directions we expect that story to take – sometimes to its benefit, and sometimes not. For example, while we might expect a character who is repeatedly and pointedly told that he is not as good as his brother to start to get a little bit bitter or resentful, but Collie never does – which is an interesting idea, but also eventually made him seem more than a little pathetic, and passive – not characteristics that I usually look for in a narrator.
I think my major issue with this book was the plotting. The first half of the book reads like standard, hilarious (faux-) memoir. About halfway through, however, the book takes a sharp left into tragic melodrama, which was disconcerting, to say the least. After that, the pacing gets a little jumpy, and although things are happening, the real “plot” of the story is internal to Collie – how he grows and changes – so it kind of feels like things are happening around him for no very clear reason.
I am glad I listened to it, rather than read it. Jeff Woodman was superb, as always, with the slight exception that I couldn’t always tell Collie’s dad and Uncle Tom apart… although that may be the writing, and not the narrating. On the whole, it was an enjoyable book, with some very sharp, smart writing and a clear, unique voice, and an unconventional story that was always interesting, even when the pacing left me a bit wrong-footed. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I think fans of modern adult fiction will enjoy this one, particularly readers who like “look what happened to me during my terrible, wacky childhood”-style memoirs (a la Running with Scissors or The Glass Castle).
First Line: I grew up on Martha’s Vineyard in a house as big and loud as a parade – the clamor resonated along the entire New England coastline.