So I finished reading Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It started out offering interesting characters and complex storylines, and delivered on these promises right to the last page. In an earlier post, I remarked that I felt like I knew each character so well at just the half-way point in the novel, and was wondering how he managed to do that. I think it's because he used a few "techniques". First, he introduced most of the characters early on in the book, and in rapid succession. I found it a bit confusing to try to keep all the characters straight at first, but since they are in the novel prominently throughout the novel, that got easier to do. The next "technique" I noticed is that, in terms of character development, he went against the first rule of Creative Writing 101, "Show, don't tell". Rotenberg "told"! He told us everything about a character the very first time he introduced him or her into the story. He told the reader that, for example, Albert Fernandez was methodical and routine-driven, that he was frugal and ambitious, and that he was self-conscious of his wife's poor English. He reads self-help books on how to survive the first years of marriage, and strives to be the first to arrive at work every day, both to make a good impression and to get the early-bird parking rate. He tells us that Detective Ari Greene helps out his father, a Holocaust survivor, by picking up bagels and cream cheese for breakfast, but deceives him into thinking he used coupons to buy the cream cheese at the grocery store rather than admitting he'd purchased it at the bagel shop for an inflated price because he was too tired to make two shopping trips. He even keeps grocery store shopping bags in the car to put the cream cheese in to further the deception. Ari states in the first few paragraphs after he's introduced to the story that, having gone through so much in his life, the last thing his father needed was to discover that his only surviving son was a lousy shopper. He works too hard and is constantly trying to make up for the losses his father suffered in the war. These examples are true for most of the characters, that their basic characteristics are laid out for the reader right at the character's introduction. But this is not a drawback. Rotenberg still manages to offer growth and development for the characters, and we as readers better understand their choices and actions because of these introductions. So, on a scale of 1 to 5, I give Old City Hall 5 stars. It is complex and intriguing to the very end. I dare you to read it and not feel sympathetic towards most, if not all, of the main characters.
I started reading Still Alice by Lisa Genova a few days ago. It is the June book club selection. I wanted to write about the experience of rereading a book, and how the reading experience is affected by knowing "what happens next", but I'll save that for next time.
Bye for now!
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