Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Richard North Patterson - Loss of Innocence: Book Review

Richard North Patterson (Loss of Innocence, Quercus, October2013, 368 pages, $26.95) is the best selling author of twenty earlier novels, many dealing with politics, social issues, and international affairs. His earlier novels were crime fiction. In Loss of Innocence he attempts to capture the agony, violence, and social unrest of the summer of 1968, often called the Summer of Rage. Those of us alive (particularly those of us in college at the time) remember clearly the threat of the draft during the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the police riots surrounding the Democratic National Convention, and many other trying and frightening events. But two generations have passed, leaving few younger Americans with any memory of that momentous year. It is therefore somewhat disappointing that what emerges in Patterson's novel of this period is a preachy political screed, a needy, privileged WASP girl, and characters so stereotyped and predictable as to loose any semblance of genuine dramatic tension, educational, or literary value. This is a shame, since the era deserves a first rate popular novel bringing the lives and issues of that time into a realistic view for contemporary audiences. Nevertheless, this novel will probably reach the best seller lists as a moderately sexy melodrama that leads many readers to believe they are also gleaning added insights.

Whitney Dane has just graduated from the second tier Wheaton (MA) College, become engaged to Dartmouth student Peter Brooks, and returned to her family's summer home on Martha's Vineyard to prepare for her Fall wedding. Her father, Charles, principle in an investment banking house founded by her maternal grandfather, is a man driven by success and power. He welcomes Peter into his firm, while arranging a much sought after place in the National Guard for him, thus sparing him any risk of serving in the war in Vietnam. Whitney feels a certain sense of disquiet, but caught up in the press of planning for her wedding and her family and friend's enthusiasm for the match, pushes it all down and, to use of phrase from the era, “goes with the flow.” That is, until Ben Brooks appears. Brooks is a local boy, who, through brains, ambition, drive, and luck, has been chosen to be one of those who receive a scholarship to Yale in order to promote what we now call diversity. He has achieved well there, but has dropped out to work for the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy, who is killed in front of him, whereupon he returns home, lost and hurt. There develops a complex and difficult relationship showing promise of ripening into more just as Whitney's marriage draws ever closer. You fill in the blanks. The duplicitous best friend, the beautiful but damaged younger sister, the seemingly happy and dutiful mother, and the mystery of the prologue hanging over all add to the mix.

So far, so good in what looks to be an interesting premise for a coming of age novel set in a period of tragic events and deep anxiety. What's wrong with all this, then? At its best, plot is revealed by events and through dialogue. Fine writers show rather than tell, according to composition teachers. Often Patterson seeks to apply this dictum, but speeches emphasizing character development and plot often come across of portentous, pompous explanations rather than being connected to action or explication. Charles Dane, his wife Ann, and his foil Ben Blaine all represent common postures of the day – the successful striving Republican businessman, the satisfied, dutiful wife, the young, angry radical. In a set piece beach party, Ben and Whitney observe counterculture types doing drugs and having sex in public. Whitney's sexual awakening is slightly lubricious, just sexy enough to attract some readers. Patterson is to be complimented on his effort to write from a woman's point of view with his emphasis being on her flowering self rather than her being deflowered. However, to be effective plot, setting, character, and action must be intrinsic to each other, organic rather than being lain one over the other. In Loss of Innocence, Patterson apparently chooses a plot line and selects an era to place it in, and then, sadly, fails to make them work together in a convincing fashion, with the largest flaw lying in largely wooden dialogue.

Richard North Patterson
Richard North Patterson is the author of The Spire, Eclipse and fourteen other bestselling and critically acclaimed novels. Formerly a trial lawyer, he was the SEC liaison to the Watergate special prosecutor and has served on the boards of several Washington advocacy groups. He lives in San Francisco and on Martha's Vineyard with his wife, Dr. Nancy Clair.

Loss of Innocence by Richard North Patterson (Quercus, October 2013, 368 pages, $26.95) is destined to join others of North's works on the best seller list despite all I've written above. Its October release date signals it as a candidate for its A list books for fall reading. It would have been more appropriate for a good beach read, in which case I might have given it a better review. As it stands, the book stands somewhere between a melodramatic women's romance and a failed attempt to represent a period and the issues which characterized it. Lossof Innocence was provided to me as an electronic galley by the publisher through Edelweiss: Above theTree Line.