Unbecoming was a book that I recognized, or maybe I had just been seeing it around often, or something…I knew I was averting my attention from it however, and I know it’s due to its cover. It seemed as though this was a cover that has been done so many times before, or at least, one that was tired looking in its appearance. There is nothing on this cover that drew my attention to it, or enticed me to want to pick it up, or read the description of what the book was to be about. ( I have been feeling strongly about book covers and their designs lately. It could probably be written (would have to be penned with eloquence and care) into a separate post, as I have many opinions on this topic.)
Anyway….my opinion on this particular book changed when I saw it included in Emily Gatlin’s Buy Borrow or Bypass – a feature on Book Riot’s site. In her article featuring “Southern Fiction”, (which you know was an article I was going to click on!) Unbecoming was listed with this description:
Julie is a semi-pro art restorer in Paris with a big secret; her name is Grace and she is from Garland, Tennessee. Her husband and the man she loves have just been paroled in Tennessee, after serving time for a crime Grace planned in exacting detail. The heist went bad, but not before she was on a plane to Prague with a stolen canvas rolled in her bag. And so, in Paris, begins a cat-and-mouse waiting game as Grace’s web of deception and lies unravels—and she becomes another young woman entirely. Think Donna Tartt meets Alfred Hitchcock meets Marisha Pessl.
Verdict: Buy! Excellent choice for a snow day read.
Okay, and so now that our snow days (finally) ( I better not have jinxed us!) are behind us, it was still one title I hustled over to check out from the library. It was included with a list of other books that I owned or already read, plus Donna Tartt meets Alfred Hithcock? Sold.
Sadly, my verdict differs from Emily’s. I am glad to have only borrowed (and not bought as Emily suggests) from our public library.
While Unbecoming is an impressively written debut novel, I did after all enjoy her writing, I will say I was quite disappointed overall. I was settling in and enjoying Scherm’s style of writing, but as I neared the 50% point of the book, it began to drag considerably and frankly nothing much happens, at any time throughout the story. Nothing was happening in the beginning, and unfortunately, nothing much continues to happen until it reaches the end. The ending was extremely tepid as well. The big secret, the big heist, the great fear that requires Grace to flee to Paris and change her name? Meh.
There was just never any of those “edge of your seat” moments filled with tension, anticipation and terror. It plodded. It plodded along the whole time.
There were tiny doses of moments where it hinted that Grace might be one of those unreliable characters – parts where she was potentially hiding aspects of her true self – for instance, when first attending school in New York there was a slight, very slight (almost invisible) mention of her having sex with strange men and again this is briefly, oh so very briefly, perhaps even, mentioned again when she was in Paris, but it was never fully realized. Ever.
Grace was not an unreliable character at all. She’s not even really a great character, to be truthful. She’s flat and unimpressive and there were never any moments where those anticipated edge-of-your-seat suspense or terror-filled moments where Grace may just be hunted down by her husband Riley, or his best-friend, Alls after they’ve been released from jail. In actuality, this “big heist” is described and presented so half-heartedly, that when the climax of the story is reached, it falls desperately short. Flattened on the pavement like a pancake.
Alls does eventually find her in Paris, but the lead up to that point, and to when he does find her only plods along as though it were any other day for Grace. She continues on with her life in Paris, only now, its with Alls. That’s all. That stolen painting? Oh that was sold, but then they robbed Grace of the money. So she’s been living in near poverty. That’s it. There you go.
As for Riley, the one we’re supposed to have great fear of finding her location, the one we’re lead to believe terrifies Grace is never really to be heard from again. Riley does absolutely nothing following the great heist, and his time spent in jail. Which makes the whole story in the end a great, big and fat letdown. There were simply far too many unrealized aspects to this book to make it the anticipated page-turning thrill ride.
I understood the intention of what Scherm was trying to do and where she was perhaps wishing to take us with this story – it just never truly reached that point. As I mentioned above, her writing style is very nice, it is assured and I will be interested in reading what she comes up with next.
So, my verdict for Unbecoming, (if I were a member of Book Riot writing for this feature): Borrow.
Borrow, not bypass outright however, because it is a decent story to sit and read casually over the weekend, it is a nice companion on an overcast weekend (like we had at the start of the weekend), but it just wasn’t the page-turner I was anticipating. (So…my initial judging of this book by the cover wasn’t all that off-base….it still leaves me sad and disappointed though.)