57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
As many of the reviewers of this book are, I am a great fan of Julia Glass' first book, "Three Junes", and had eagerly been waiting for her follow-up. I was dismayed to read so many middling reviews of "The Whole World Over," but was determined to give it a try myself. I really wanted to like the book, but a hundred pages in I found myself disappointedly sympathizing with the reviewers on this site who had given up at that point and had no remorse about not continuing. I kept reading out of loyalty to Glass -- and to the fact that I hadn't actually liked the first part of "Three Junes" either, and I wound up loving that novel in the end. Unfortunately, "The Whole World Over" doesn't pick up the way her first book did. The characters just aren't very involving, and their stories don't make you want to find out more about them. They are very grounded and thought-out, but ultimately feel more planned than realistic. There is also a very disjointed narrative structure that awkwardly transitions, in each chapter, from 2000-2001 (when the present-day action is unfolding) to some point in the past of whichever character that chapter is about, and then back to the present. The cast of characters is a little too crowded as well, particularly for the narrative form Ms. Glass has chosen. Storylines are constantly getting put on hold to switch to another one, and since none of them are very interesting it only serves to distance you further from the action. Glass also seems to have developed a taste for cutesy language that feels cloying -- and her efforts to nickname each of her characters becomes grating after a while. She also falls into the trap of over-using the words like, totally, dude, and man in the dialogue of her younger, teen or twenty-something characters. It would be one thing if only one of them spoke that way, but when all three of them do it (Candace/Candy, Scott, and Sonya/Spiderwoman)it just hurts your head. I'm 24 and I have never spoken that way, and most of my friends didn't even speak that way in high school, so it just feels at best like a lazy, cliched way for a writer to try and use a different dialogue technique or, at worst, like the author does not trust her readers to remember that there is an age difference between the characters talking. That is a particular pet peeve of mine when it comes to fiction.
Anyway, I mentioned earlier that I sympathized with the people who gave up on this novel after a hundred pages or so, but I am glad that I stuck with it because Glass does return to glorious form in the last sixty pages or so, when the 9/11 attacks take place. Her coverage of the events of that day could have felt exploitative or overly dramatic but it isn't. At last she stopped cloying and hit upon some genuine emotion! Glass does a remarkable and admirable job of capturing the events of the day and the conflicting feelings that came with it (horror, panic, anger, sadness for those lost and joy for the people who called to say that they were safe). It is the best take on that day that I have read in a fiction book in the years that have followed, and it is just unfortunate that such perceptive observations and genuinely good writing is crammed into the last 60 pages of an otherwise mediocre novel. If there had been more like that I would be able to say that the book is worth recommending, but I can't bring myself to advise anyone to slog through 450 pages of trifle for one brief, heartbreaking moment of genius.
64 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I ADORED The Three Junes and was eagerly waiting for another novel from Ms. Glass but only got halfway through this book. I wanted to keep reading because I still think the author is extremely talented but unfortunately it just didn't capture my interest. Main problems:
A. I didn't find Greenie a very interesting or sympathetic character.
B. Story lumbers along very slowly.
C. I could sense the author WRITING the book as I was reading it which makes it very hard to immerse yourself in the story.
D. There are many different story lines in The Whole World Over and everytime I picked up the book it felt like I was reading a completely different novel -- this disjointed sensation never allowed me to get close to the characters or to enter their world.
I hate to write a bad review because I still think Ms. Glass is a brilliant writer. I highly recommend her first book which was utterly gorgeous and truly magical.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Like many of the other reviewers, I did not find this book as instantly compelling as Three Junes. But that's okay; it has other virtues. I find its strongest virtue best described through something else that it's not.
The Whole World Over takes place largely on Bank Street in New York City and in Santa Fe, but, with one exception I'll cover later, it's not evocative of either. (I've worked in lower Manhattan for the last 25 years, a friend of mine lives on Bank Street, and I spend a week and a half in Santa Fe every August.) I assume that this is deliberate, and I assume that it's meant to focus us on what matters in this novel: the creation of family.
Many of the characters - and there are many characters - come from families that don't function well. These characters respond by creating their own families, through sex and friendship. In Santa Fe, this doesn't work out, but to focus on Santa Fe would distract our attention from why it doesn't. One of the main characters, Greenie, goes from Bank Street to Santa Fe and back to Bank Street, with excursions to Maine. It doesn't matter where she is; it matters where she can create an enduring family. Both New York and Santa Fe seem strangely under-populated in this book, as if the only characters there are the ones in the novel. The created families become the neighborhoods.
There is one exception to this, I thought. Five years after the fact, I still find it uncomfortable to think of September 11, 2001, in lower Manhattan. Julia Glass does a great job of invoking this discomfort. The attack on the World Trade Center is focused through Saga, another of the many main characters. Saga is recovering from a traumatic brain injury, and at first she can't figure out what was happening. I've had no brain injury, but her confusion seemed just right. I heard the plane, louder than any plane I'd heard in New York. I felt the explosion. I heard a colleague yelling that the World Trade Center was on fire. But I couldn't connect these three seemingly discreet events. What I remember best from the start of that day was bewilderment. This was site-specific, and Julia Glass captures it perfectly. I wish she hadn't.
I'll end with a warning. If you're going to read this book, set aside some time to do it fairly rapidly. There are so many characters, and so many circumstances, that I think it would be difficult to pick up again after a break.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2006
Like most people, I bought this book by Julia Glass because of her "Three Junes." I struggled through it, not quitting because I was hoping that it might correct itself, was leading to something, or that the rambling and disconnected writing -- full of so much superfluous detail (example: Toward the end of the book, the characters, most of whom are quite unlikable and often cartoony, play Scrabble and we get to play along, learning what words they play and where, even though this has nothing to do with the plot line, what there is) as to be ridiculous. The book had the feel of someone writing frantically to fill pages because there was a deadline looming. I heard myself saying or thinking as I began another long section: "Good God, where are we heading here, why are we being told this?" I also realize that a protagonist is a cook, but the attention to meal descriptions became laughable. I am a prodigious reader and also a writer and admire the craft. I admire Ms. Glass, and I know she is a pro, but I feel badly for her that her editors allowed this one to see the light of day. But here's the good news: Books I have not liked have been known to win major literary prizes. So . . . .
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2006
If Julia Glass had not set the bar so high with Three Junes, I would have given the book 3 stars instead of 2. There are sentences, paragraphs, even pages of brilliance in this book, but it is as if winning the National Book Award gave Ms. Glass unconditional confidence in her writing, and character development in particular. She seemed out of touch with the major demographics the narrative slings around. As another reviewer wrote, the writing process seemed transparant. Reading the book, you get the feeling that the characters are what Ms. Glass (a privileged white woman of a certain age) imagines teenagers, or New Mexicans, or black chauffeurs, or Hispanic nannies, or even gay people to be like. She is like a tourist who voyeuristically delights in other cultures without really understanding them. The teenagers and the Santa Fe inhabitants are the most painful examples of caricatures. Greenie might be the most believable, and although I understood why she was falling out of love with her gloomy Alan, I wasn't sucked along with her when she falls in love with "the other Charlie". He was only very mildly interesting and certainly not worth (even temporarily) losing your child over. With Saga, she manages to develop her most sympathetic character, but Saga's life is left floating and unresolved at the end. Even the brief appearance of Fenno, who I loved in Three Junes, lacked intensity and seemed gimmicky. All and all, a very disappointing second novel. You have to wonder, since most reviewers are pointing out all of the same problems with character, what good is her editor?
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2007
Julia Glass is a magnificent writer. I, too, was blown away by "Three Junes" and eagerly awaited this next book. And, while by and large I understand the various criticisms put forth by some reviewers here, I must say that for me, "The Whole World Over" was an enormously satisfying book. I loved it! What Glass does particularly well is voice. Ray and Walter are the prime examples here, but equally so are the voices of the six-year-old George, and of Greenie's imperious mother, of Michael and Uncle Marsden... indeed there isn't one from this large cast of characters that isn't dead-on. I also find Glass an attentive observer of minute but telling domestic detail, which adds a glorious richness to most scenes. As in the "Three Junes," the story lines of various characters intertwine in quasi-serendipidous ways (indeed, there are some holdovers from the first novel) which may seem contrived to some. To me, it is wonderful metaphorical illustration of her title: the big world is really only made up of small interconnecting webs. I was reluctant to finish this book, but find the characters have remained with me. It was a deeply affecting read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2007
This is the first book I've read written by Julia Glass and although based on the reviews here I would normally be tempted to pick up her other book, I certainly wouldn't based on my experience with this book.
I did finish the book -- I was on vacation and it was the book I brought -- and I kept waiting for it to sweep me up, but it never did. Although I thought the writing was well done and most of the characters I found interesting, I never really bonded with any of them. I can always tell if I've found a good book if I want the story to continue or miss the characters by the time I've finished it. But when I finished this book I really had no desire to ever meet these characters again, except perhaps Walter who I found to be the most sympathetic and well-drawn.
My main objection to this book is that I was insulted by the not so subtle bashing of anyone to the Right of San Francisco both in terms of the characters in the book (Both Werner and the Governer are complete caricatures)and the narrative voice which wreaks of the same holier than thou liberalism that might be typical of some of our less-informed movie stars. This is obviously a talented writer. But she needs to stick to micro-topics. Macro is really out of her league and just makes her seem silly.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2008
I wasn't originally as in love with "Three Junes" as much of the world seemed to be -- part of me wonders cynically if its American Book Award wasn't due to it being a paean to New York City life in many ways -- but each time I've re-read it I've gotten more out of it, so I guess the award was legitimate. Vivid characters and situations, well-told.
But I can't imagine reading this book even one more time. It was light; that was the biggest point in its favor. Otherwise I thought the characters were mostly cardboard, and mostly unlikable, Greenie especially. I never warmed to her and by the end actually disliked her. There wasn't enough passion in her relationship with Charlie to make that come to life, and her problems seemed, as a friend of mine says, to be "those of a blond in a yacht" -- ie, not so huge. This is a problem of characterization.
The plot was also messy and too long. And while I do understand that people write to make sense of historical events, I find the leap to use 9/11 in books a bit tasteless. In this particular case it seemed extraneous, as if the book was running out of steam and the author felt it needed something to keep peoples' attention. 9/11 almost guarantees that, yes, but it was a bit soap-opera-ish -- as was the whole book.
So, a good enough airplane read. But not much more. I hope Julia can return to the sort of writing of "The Three Junes" with her next book.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Julia Glass's second novel has a little bit of a lot of things. Gay people, straight people, politicians, cooks, children, adults, animals, city, desert. Any one of her characters could serve as the focus of a novel, but here, the central ones are Greenie and Alan, who are having serious marital problems and, against Alan's wishes, Greenie chooses to separate for a time, taking their obnoxiously precocious little boy with her. Shuttling between NYC and New Mexico, the action revolves around the decisions they make, but in my view, it's the ancillary characters who generate the most human interest, especially Saga, Walter, and Fenno. Luckily, Glass is a competent writer whose prose is a pleasure to read, whose understanding of human foibles is deep. Otherwise, such a talky story, low on action and high on thoughts and feelings, might degenerate into tedium. That's not the case, and I look forward to her next novel, in which I hope Saga and Walter play major roles.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I've given a lot of thought to why Julia Glass' second novel, "The Whole World Over," has received so many lackluster reviews by avid fans of the author's first novel. Obviously, fans of "Three Junes" were looking forward to another novel much like the first. They wanted another detailed character study. They wanted to get to know another character as intimately as Fenno McCloud, the much-loved main character at the center of "Three Junes." What they got instead, was something entirely different.
"The Whole World Over" is a study about family. The novel has a wide assortment of main characters, each belonging to ever-widening and intersecting circles of family connections. The author deftly sculpts each character--but none have that breath of life that Glass was able to achieve with Fenno McCloud. How could she? There are just too many characters...and after all, that is not the purpose of this novel.
In this work, Glass delves deeply into the timeless question: "What does it take to make, or break, a family?" She gives us many families: a traditional family on the brink of a break-up; a hodge-podge family of friends, associates, and workers centered around a charismatic bachelor governor; a newly formed fragile group of three testing the possibilities of becoming a family; a father with one son, dealing with the possibility that he may have fathered another child who is totally unaware of his existence; a family that is shattered by how they deal with a mentally declining patriarch and a neurologically damaged cousin; and many more. Glass takes us on a journey through these families. You won't like all these characters, or their families, but each is fascinating and fundamentally unique. Each give us a view of family reality from another perspective.
In this book, not all the families have bonds of blood, and some of the people tied together by blood do not turn out to be real families at all. At the end of this novel, no one character, or one family, will stand out in your mind. Instead, you will be left with the author's all-important message seared into your heart: to make a family, all it takes is commitment and unconditional love. Without these, a family will shatter...or slowly dissolve.
And, by the way, Fenno McCloud and his New York friends make a heart-warming appearance in this novel...and yes, they are most certainly one of the good and healthy examples of families that populate this remarkable book.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it highly. It may not be as magnificent a novel as "Three Junes," but it is still a powerfully-crafted and artful work of prose with an all-important message.