Now and then, I come across an interview with an author where the question is asked “What is the book you wish you'd written?” I hadn't ever given the question much thought, but as I anticipated the release of James Renner's latest novel, it came to me: The Man from Primrose Lane. Now, I don't wish I'd written what was Renner's first novel because I consider it to be the greatest work of literature ever; I cherish The Man from Primrose Lane because Renner was able to write in a way that I love but am—at present—incapable of duplicating. You see, when it comes to stories I have two great loves: one is the dramatic, the epic, the heart warming and the heartrending (East of Eden, Atonement, Short Term 12, The Wonder Years); the other (which I love in equal measure), is the bizarre, the unexpected, the paranormal and paranoid (The Twilight Zone, The X-Files, We Have Always Lived in the Castle). In my own writing, I write like the first. I'm okay with that. But I do wish I could write in both styles. And The Man from Primrose Lane is the best, most unexpected work in the genre I've come across since the heyday of the genre in the sixties and seventies.
So when I cracked open the cover of The Great Forgetting I was thrilled to discover a nod to The Twilight Zone itself in a chapter title and epigraph. It took all of two minutes to realize the entire book was filled with these titles and quotes. (I admit I flipped all the way through to the end reading the episode titles and reminiscing about the classic sci-fi show before reading the novel's opening paragraph.) At this point, expectations were high. SUPER HIGH.
Renner didn't let me down. Right away the story was intriguing. I was pulled into the mystery and marveled at the brilliance of the plot. My appetite for conspiracies was sated. There was a little bit of all those elements that make the genre great without a loss of quality writing. I made speculations as to what was going on; my reading was fueled by my desire to reach the conclusion.
Then the novel became a bit bogged down by all it was trying to hold up and keep together. The story depended too much on its absurdities and grew convoluted. In defense of the author, I admit it was a lot to hold together: layered conspiracies, anomalies, maintaining relevance, and being the follow-up to such a great predecessor. Certainly, only a well-trained, intelligent and patient author could even formulate such a plot. Myself, I am not such an author.
(Note: This is a vague review. It's vague on purpose, because the thing about Renner's style is that saying anything is almost saying too much. This was particularly true with The Man from Primrose Lane, but it applies here as well.)
So yes, I hoped for more with The Great Forgetting, but that's not to say I was disappointed. My expectations were high, and even though Renner's second novel did not reach the heights I had hoped for, it was still an engrossing, well-written novel. I've read some Stephen King. I've read every novel of David Mitchell's. Without a doubt, James Renner is of their caliber.
Oh, my other great love? Willy Wonka. And there were several nods to the candyman in this novel as well. Thank you, Mr. Renner, for making me giggle with school-girl-like excitement.