Well, I finished The Crooked Maid by Dan Vyleta even though we all know that Lynn Coady won it for Hell Going, which was the book I was going to read and didn’t.
Instead I read The Crooked Maid and I thought it was good. It was a very old-fashioned story about an old place and an old time.
I might have liked it more if it was shorter and more focused. As I write this review, though it has been a week since I finished, I find that I can’t really say what the story was.
It started on a train with a beautiful but slightly ruined young man and a woman who is on the precipice of a mystery. Their story lines, perhaps a little unrealistically, weave in and out of each other. While she tries to find out what happened to her soldier husband, the young man chases after a beautiful and slightly ruined young woman.
The characters were very interesting and there are no extras. I don’t think I’ve read anyone like them. They were all beautiful and disgusting. I loved that about them.
As the plot trots along at its discursive pace, I found my interest was maintained at about 80%. I could put this book down and do other things, no problem. And in the end, I wasn’t really sure what the conclusion was.
There were quite a few arcs reaching through and while they all ended up coming together, some of the threads felt like simple utilitarian cotton rather than silky luxury. A means to an end.
This novel, like Caught, was a very ambitious book and, while I think this one was more successful than Caught, I still feel sort of annoyed that ambition has amounted to so much. If only Vyleta’s focus was pulled tighter, I might have enjoyed it more.
When I sense that a story is written with the goal of scale in mind, I am inclined to judge it on the basis of scale. On that front I think this book falls short of the epic eastern-European tragic-romance dramatic tales that I think it wants to be. It lacks consequence. The weight isn’t that heavy, the setting is, but the weight of that setting isn’t contextualized or made universal.
On the basis that this contains fascinating character sketches and new, intriguing interpersonal complexities, I read those parts deeply and will likely never forget these people.
This is it for me and the Giller Prize Book Club this time around. I am eager to get on with other things. But, it’s been a real trip to spend this much time in these great Canadian tales. I’ve enjoyed it so much more than I expected I would.
I meant to have a party, but I didn’t.