Tuesday, October 04, 2011

'Once upon a Day' took too many hours of my life to read

Tucker, Lisa. Once Upon a Day. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Once upon a Day is a modern-day coming-of-age story intertwined with a old-Hollywood romance, as author Lisa Tucker blends the story of sheltered Dorothea, out in the world for the first time in memory, with the failed romance of her parents, once famous stars now nearly forgotten.

The early pages of the book move slowly; Dorothea leaves home for the first time in search of her brother, and her naivete as she figures out bus travel (daunting for anyone), hires a taxi, and buys her first modern clothes seems played for laughs. Dorothea's quick transition from innocent daughter to worldly-wise seductress is implausible, although her dreams and the vague memories she and her brother are able to recall serve as the link to a more compelling story, that of her parents' courtship and increasingly broken marriage. At the beginning of the novel, Tucker hints at a great tragedy, and the hints and intimations grow stronger as Dorothea, her brother Jimmy, and a helpful cabdriver (who becomes much more) attempt to solve the mystery. By the end of the book, Dorothea seems perfectly adapted to everyday life in modern America, and the story of her parents' romance is both heartbreaking and frustrating for its undertones of manipulation shrouded in the guise of love.

While not the greatest book I've read, this novel does manage to balance the frivolous silliness of novelty with the slow ache of unfulfilled passion, and by the end of the story I was able to sympathise with a few of the characters. Overall, however, this is a book that encourages listless awareness rather than genuine involvement with the characters and their stories, and thus, while I look forward to seeing what other tricks Tucker has up her novelist's sleeve, I'm happy to wait a while for my next encounter with her work.

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