Sunday, December 9, 2012

Completed: Cutting for Stone


This is one of those books that *everyone* was recommending to me 12 or 18 months ago. Seriously, I feel like I had a million people tell me how much they loved it. The copy I have was given to me by the mother of a student.

Cutting for Stone is an epic tome of a novel, weighing it at almost 700 pages! It's the story of Marion Stone, one of twin boys born in Ethiopia to a nun. The first third of the book tells the story of Marion & Shiva's birth (they are identical twins) and the tragic death of their mother in labor. The middle third tells of their childhood and adolescence in Addis Ababa and unrest in Ethiopia at that time. The last third describes Marion's life as a surgical resident in America.

Honestly, if it wasn't for the fact that I went in with such high expectations, I probably would have liked it better. It's a nice novel, but I have to say, I don't quite get why everyone else just LOVED it. As it was, I'd call this a solid novel that could have used a good, thorough editing.

The Good
It's pretty fast-paced with lots of action. The writing is decent, both competently written with the occasional turn of the phrase that made me appreciate the author's craft. The characters are interesting and I came to care about them, wondering what would happen and wanting them to be happy. Marion is good-hearted but ultimately unable to let go of the suffering caused by some tragic events in his teenage years. He is forced to flee to America, and leaving his family behind leaves him unable to come to terms with his role in past events. It's almost like he's "stuck" because he must leave the situation behind rather than being forced to deal with it. He can't forgive others and move on, not until they are eventually reunited by a medical emergency.

The Bad
This book contained many long and detailed descriptions of surgical procedures and illnesses. Since the sight of my own blood makes me queasy, this was brutal. I ended up just skimming most of those passages. More damning, I felt the author relied too heavily on deux ex machina to move the plot forward---lots of small, convenient twists that didn't feel truly organic to the plot.

The Embarrassing
I'm going to admit to something AWFUL right here: when I was reading this book, I managed to accidentally skip about 100 pages** of the middle section of the book. I think that the previous reader had dog-eared a page, and I picked it up and thought it was my page. KELLY, THIS WAS NOT SOMETHING I NOTICED UNTIL 200 PAGES LATER. So when I say it needed a good editing, I'm serious. What I ended up skipping was some political events happening in Ethiopia during the 70s. It wasn't until the end of the book, when Marion runs into someone who reminisces about a shared incident from their past that I realized I had forgotten something. I went skimming back, looking to jog my memory, and discovered a section I didn't really remember. I started to read it, and eventually realized just how much I had missed...and just how little it mattered to the overall thrust of the narrative. Oops.

Thinking about how that possibly could have happened, I think the problem is that the book is mainly about the personal, emotional connections between characters. However, the section I ended up skipping was more about the outside world. The political climate is why Marion must leave, and so maybe the author wanted to give fuller background...but it's just too long. My new theory is that 700 page novels are like 3 hour movies: someone should just tell the author/director to get over themselves and cut that down to manageable size.

I liked it, and was at times moved to tears. Had this book been 400 pages, it would have been brilliant. I think the author's intention was to make his novel epic in scope, but ultimately I feel like it was just too long. I'd say that I recommend it with reservations.


**I just looked back at the book to make sure I had these numbers right. I read the first 275 pages, skipped about 120 pages, and so started reading again about 395. It was around 580 that the scene appeared that made me go back to refresh my memory. The novel then ends on 658.

1 comment:

  1. It's such a bummer when a book gets ruined by raves, isn't it? Going in, you're like, "This book is going to *change my life!!*" after everyone has been talking about it so much. In fact, I think that was part of the issue for me and The Marriage Plot. On one hand, recommendations are good. On the other, everyone just calm down on telling me how incredible this thing is! (Of course, I'd do it myself over a book I love, soo... yeah.)

    Um... hilarious that you missed all of that and did not notice. I wonder if that's also because you do a lot of "filling in the gaps" when you read anyway, since you read so fast. Perhaps someone who really pores over every word would have noticed the missing info sooner? Some of the best bookish advice I ever got was when I read Les Miserables (which is a great book): Skip the parts where it really gets into the sewer system and the war. I probably skipped over 400 pages in that book with absolutely no ill effect. The only thing you need to know about the war happens in the final page of the description and, as for the sewers... I think Hugo was just super interested in that stuff. That book was over 900 pages, thereby proving your 3 hour movie theory.