To Go: 77
21. Water For Elephants — Sara Gruen
22. The Borrowers — Mary Norton
23. Very Valentine — Adriana Trigiani
I was totally going to read The Time Traveler’s Wife but then I wasn’t in the mood for a thicker, more thought-provoking read, so I went for Very Valentine, a book I picked up in the $5 section at Indigo. As much as I’m a lover of cheap things, especially books, this was one bargain purchase that I deeply regret. To date, it has been the most mind-numbing read I’ve encountered.
Very Valentine follows Valentine Roncalli, a 33-year-old apprentice to her grandmother’s wedding shoe-making business, as she attempts to juggle a trying job, a hectic family life, and a romance with chronically busy and neglectful chef Roman Falconi. Given a plot summary similar to this, one could safely assume that it would be a fun and frivolous read, and could be filed away in the chick lit genre.
That would be a generous overstatement.
Valentine, a nauseating and overdramatic narrator, spent the majority of the novel making quips about her family, the stereotypical and dramatically caricatured version of a “normal” Italian clan, and was constantly referred to as “the funny one.” Despite this label, there was nothing she said that was remotely amusing; all of her comments regarding “what Italian people like” toed the line between good natured humour and hipster racism, and left me dissatisfied. I didn’t get to know a nuanced, interesting family; I just felt like I was reading about what everyone expects an Italian family to sound and act like. It was as if Trigiani was trying to cater to culturally assumed tropes, which ultimately did her a disservice. People are more three-dimensional than that.
What I found to be the most painful, glaring flaw was the sexist undertones of the story; there were entire segments in the novel on how men bettered with age, whereas women just aged — and that was portrayed as an unflattering process that all women should strive to hide for as long as possible. Valentine’s mom went a step further by insisting that to keep her husband’s affections from straying, she had to defy the aging process, and keep herself dressed up at all times — basically, at the age of 60, she was still acting like a sex kitten because she didn’t trust her husband enough to assume that he loved her based on her personality. Over and over again, this sentiment was repeated: if you want to keep your man, you better doll yourself up until the day you die because your personality will never be enough.
Frankly, I think men deserve a bit more credit than that. And so do women.
If the female characters weren’t telling each other to dress younger than their years and in other ways defy the aging process in order to keep their men hooked, they were blaming themselves for the faults of their partners — at the very least, Valentine did. Every time Roman deserted her, she would get mad for a little while and then inevitably find some way to turn the blame on herself. And when she came to her realization that they just weren’t meant to be, she didn’t blame him for his flakiness in the least; she rationalized it, by claiming that she, like Roman, wasn’t as invested in the relationship as she could have been; not once in the book did her narration back this assertion up.
To Trigiani’s credit, Valentine, though ridiculously whiny and childish, transcended the not-so-closet sexism and found that she didn’t quite fit the shoe she thought she would (oh, come on, I had to use a shoe metaphor at least once). Instead of straining to fit herself into Roman’s life, she chose to live her own (not before uttering some inane sentiment about Roman deserving to be put first, which she couldn’t do at this time in her life — forgetting, of course, that he’d never put her first during their entire relationship, and had actually ditched her in a foreign country).
Beyond that, the prose itself was riddled with misplaced and dangling modifiers, incorrect punctuation use, and an overabundance of flowery purple prose. There was much more telling than showing — for example, the narration was constantly saying that Roman was charming and wonderful, but his mannerisms rarely confirmed it — and the narration itself lost focus several times; I’d be in the middle of reading dialogue, and then find two paragraphs later that, at the slightest provocation, Valentine was off and rambling about some random, often irrelevant, memory or thought, and didn’t return to the point at hand until pages later. It was a jarring and unpleasant experience, to say the least.
Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t recommend the book. The only reason I actually finished it was so I could add it to my book total.
Next book: Eat, Pray, Love — Elizabeth Gilbert (I think!)