So Far Away
tells the story of Natalie, a thirteen year old bullying victim also struggling with her parents’ divorce, and Kathleen, the middle aged archivist meant to help Natalie with a genealogy project for school. The two are connected through Bridgette, an Irish maid in 1920s Boston whose diary Natalie has found and wants to investigate. As a fan of Kate Morton and other such stories that connect modern and historical characters together, I had high hopes for this one. In the end, it was quite a let-down.
A lot of this novel – or at least the hundred pages I was able to slog my way through – feels very forced and clunky, as though Mitchell Moore isn’t quite sure how to subtly weave all her themes together. The writing is lacking in its exposition; there’s a whole lotta telling instead of showing. Mitchell Moore is disposed to using parenthetical asides in her narration, an unnecessary tool that destroys any sense of subtlety in her character development and foreshadowing.
I found the character of Kathleen to be particularly annoying. She’s just so overwrought and, I don’t know, kind of histrionic? She feels drawn to help Natalie because the girl reminds her of her own daughter, Susannah, whom she lost to heroin addiction. Kathleen sees Natalie as a cracking porcelain doll and takes it upon herself to hold the girl together. But it’s all so over dramatic. When Natalie first meets Kathleen she lies and says that her mother has died, and then walks off into a rainstorm to catch the bus. Kathleen’s first thought:
“The poor girl. No wonder she looked so fragile and bewildered. So underfed! Poor thing, no mother. That explained why she was out in a rainstorm on a school day, why she was navigating Boston’s public transportation system on her own. She had nobody to tell her not to.”
Oi vey. I lost my mother when I was roughly Natalie’s age and I don’t think anyone would’ve described me as “fragile and bewildered” even in the months immediately following her death. I know that it’s unfair to assume that a character’s grieving process would necessarily mimic my own, but it strikes me as stereotypical and condescending to assume that a teenage girl who has lost her mother is going to wander around lost in the big city in the rain crying, that any emotional issues are directly and solely tied to the loss of her mother, and that no one else could be responsible for properly parenting the girl aside from the lost mother. Yes, yes – this whole thing is meant to illustrate Kathleen’s guilt at having “failed” her daughter. She feels like an inadequate mother, so she has to save this girl!
Oi vey. This novel is largely unoriginal and pretty poorly written.