On Thursday, August 8th, the Fixed on Fiction group met to discuss Douglas Kennedy’s Leaving the World. Here are a few of the comments made during our discussion.
Prior to jumping into Leaving the World, Elizabeth asked group members to share any titles they were currently reading outside of book club selections. The following books were mentioned:
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
This One is Mine by Maria Semple
The Lost Battles by Jonathan Jones
Moving on to Leaving the World, the group had a lot to say about a book that no one enjoyed. A lively discussion quickly ensued. When asked for a general response to the novel, one member said that it was one of the most depressing books she ever read, almost painful. Another reader stated that she didn’t find the story to be overly sad because she wasn’t invested in the characters. When asked to describe the book in a sentence, one member referred to it as “a high end soap opera,” a statement with which we all agreed.
As a group, we had a lot of issues with this title, one of which was its structure. One reader described this read as a story in acts which felt disconnected from each other. It was also described as a “crunch novel,” meaning that the author seemed to start a story, stop it abruptly, then start a new story. While Kennedy seemed to be giving us glimpses into different stages of Jane’s life, the majority of the group found this style to be choppy and frustrating as there wasn’t enough time to become invested in secondary characters.
Readers also struggled with Kennedy’s narration of a female character and his lack of female-to-female conversations. Some members noted that there were very few conversations between women and those that were present seemed unbelievable (Jane’s interactions with her mother, Christy, the hedge fund team, etc.) One reader suggested that Kennedy did not include any strong female friends in Jane’s life because he didn’t want to take the time to invest in the dialogue that would occur within these relationships. This lack of female friendships resulted in “zero feeling,” meaning that readers struggled to connect with Jane emotionally. Another member pointed out that Jane’s pregnancy and labor was given very little description, which served as another reason why readers found Kennedy’s female “voice” unbelievable.
In addition to the struggle to identify with Kennedy’s female narration, readers also found Jane’s character to be extremely unlikeable. On one hand we struggled with her pretentiousness; it seemed as though she referenced her Harvard PhD a few times too many. As a side note- the majority of members also found the author’s literary/political/academic references to be ostentatious and unnecessary. Most readers also questioned Jane’s judgement regarding her affair with the professor, her $50,000 loan to Theo, allowing Theo to move in, etc. Ultimately, we decided that while Jane was very academically intelligent, or “book smart,” she lacked common sense.
Lastly, most group members found that there were too many far-fetched moments in Jane’s life. Several readers commented on the many instances which just seemed unbelievable: Jane’s ability to always get a job quite easily (or have a job held for her), her mother’s grudge, the international gossip regarding Jane’s affair with David, Jane’s lack of friends, etc. Unfortunately, these implausible instances added up, making the novel read like a soap opera.
Despite the fact that no one greatly enjoyed Leaving the World, the Fixed on Fiction group engaged in a very lively discussion. We look forward to reading Melanie Gideon’s Wife 22 in September.