Deep River by Karl Marlantes
DNF at 34%
The trials and tribulations of the Koski siblings as they flee from Russian-occupied Finland to logging country in Washington state in the early 20th century.
To be fair, I am not the target demographic for this book, and it was made abundantly clear to me the more I read it.
This is the kind of book that boomer-aged white guys love—that thick, historical fiction tome that is both interesting and something you can show off.
Think James Michener or Ken Follett (although I actually kinda like Follett’s historical fiction), where men are men and women are…well, they are empowered and strong and totally have agency because men can write women too.
My first clue should have been the blurb, where Aino was touted as one of the book’s many “strong, independent women.” Remember that Twitter hashtag where people mimicked stereotypical male writers writing women? This author never read that hashtag and totally thought he could write women characters. They don’t quite breast boobily, but they come close.
Straightening her shoulders, pushing her breasts out, and with the confidence of a queen, she reentered the dance.
Never have I ever been as preoccupied with my boobs and my ribs as Aino is.
She was taller than Aino, but younger, not yet fully developed. She was not beautiful but not ugly, pleasant looking. There was no fat on her, nor was there any on the other girls, but she wasn’t thin. She looked strong, in a girl way.
Not only is this poor writing, but it’s really condescending. “Strong in a girl way?” Wtf.
Plus, there’s a lovely “she was curvy in all the right places” description, and I’m not quite sure if he was describing a woman, a bed post or a sine wave because what does “curvy in all the right places” even mean??
Anywho, I really did enjoy the descriptions of logging—this aspect was precisely why I picked this book up—and that it takes place in southwest Washington, close to the Oregon border. While the descriptions of the Columbia River tended to wax a little too poetic, I had serious nostalgia for home. I also was fascinated by the history of the early labor movement and the various politics of Finland, Russia and the United States.
But ultimately my enjoyment of the general plot and the setting wasn’t enough to pull me into the storyline. Poorly written female characters (there are probably male authors and male readers who will probably contest me—a woman—stating this) sucked my enjoyment from the storyline, along with two out-of-the-blue n-words (seriously white authors, I don’t care how “historically accurate” you wish to be, this is not our word to use).
Honestly, I’m pissed that I didn’t enjoy this more and even more pissed that I spent 3 days slogging through it when I have other books to read.
Reasons to read: if you’re a white cis male boomer who enjoys long, family-oriented historical tomes that could probably stand to be heavily edited.
Reasons to avoid: if you’re literally anyone else.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.