Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Book Review: The Emperor of Ocean Park

It is hard to write thrillers. Some people have it and some don't, but certainly if what you want to write is a Philip Roth novel about upper-middle class African-American family, thriller would not be my genre of choice. Stephen Carter almost pulls it off. The story falters every time the James Bond theme begins to play. I did not mind the almost neurotic introspection of the main character, but I did not quite understand the thinly drawn secondary characters. I also did not understand why some very remote details kept getting massive amount of attention. The 30 times a former law school colleague-turned-right wing-radical gets space in the book is the 30 times a poorly defined "dear Dana" character could have been fleshed out a bit more.

In the end, I could not help feeling that the author just did not how to move his plot along without some cheesy external plot. Thus, all of the mind games and action the main character goes through are borne out of authors inability to create a more real environment for Prof. Garland to engage in introspection, to grow as a person. You would think dealing with his life, his wife, his family would be enough. Alas, no. We are forced to deal with a wide range of secondary characters and filler.

The author clearly wanted to show off his grasp of Washington backroom politics, of the Judicial nomination process, and of the bizarre situation our society puts affluent African-American families. Of the three, only the latter is something few authors have had success in bringing to a mass audience. I wish Stephen Carter spent more time on that, rather than on 2nd rate thriller set pieces.

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