Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Jumpy Plot and Dense Reading--Nicole Helget's The Turtle Catcher

The Turtle Catcher follows the Richter family in New Germany, Minnesota, from the late 19th century to 1920. The novel begins with a terrible event--in 1920 the three Richter brothers drown their handicapped neighbor, Lester, after they believe he has violated their sister, Liesel. The rest of the novel is a flashback--from the mother of the boys, Magdalena, leaving Germany as a young unwed pregnant woman, to her eventual birthing and raising of five children, including the one who eventually kills her, the coming of age of those children in the early years of World War I, and the eventual tragedies of the Great War that rip the family, and the town of New Germany apart. Throughout the novel, Liesel conceals what she believes is a terrible secret--she's a hermaphrodite--and she convinces herself that Lester, handicapped from his father's relentless beatings--is the only man who could ever love her. As the events surrounding Lester's death come to the surface, the reader discovers the demons of the Richter family and their small town. 

Although the story in The Turtle Catcher was rich--I enjoyed all of its detail, its complicated levels--the execution and writing style of the novel really killed the story for me. There were times where the language was so dense, and the story so convoluted, that I was ready to give up on this book--something that I almost never do. This book had a lot of potential, and I do think it did a good job of capturing farm life in rural Minnesota at the turn of the century, as well as the political conflict between the German immigrants in the town and the other residents. 

If I could give half stars, this would really be a two and a half star review, because the book did have some good things going for it. But I don't know if I would recommend this unless someone was really interested in America before/during WWI or in turn of the century life in the Midwest.

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