Friday, January 30, 2015


Title:  Prudence
Author:  David Treuer
Publication Information:  Riverhead. 2015. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1594633088 / 978-1594633089

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Shelf Awareness.

Opening Sentence:  "Everyone remembers that day in August 1952 when the Jew arrived on the reservation."

Favorite Quote:  " was good to do things that both pleased and suited a person, this was the key to happiness."

World War II. A Jew. Parents Jonathan and Emma. Son Frankie. Friend Billy. Caretaker Felix. The girl Prudence. A reservation. A German prison camp. A Minnesota setting. A terrible accident. And a lot more.

Let's first talk about what this book is not. The title character Prudence is found dead in the first couple of pages in the book. She does not reappear until well into the book. Is the book about Prudence? Yes and no. It is equally so about Billy and Frankie. Of course, there's also Mary; she appears on and off throughout the book. Her story seems completely distinct from the rest; she seems a minor character, but takes up a significant component of the story.

This book is not a World War II story. Yes, the time period is that of the war. Yes, Frankie does join the Air Force. Yes, the book does speak about his experience as a a bombardier. Yes, the book begins with the search for an escaped German. However, the book is not about the war or a soldier's experience. The main story of the book could have occurred in a completely different context, with no really effect on the story.

This book is not about race and social class. Yes, Frankie's family comes to the Pines as their summer home. Yes, Frankie is from a privileged social class - private school, a summer home, and an Ivy League education, and Billy is a kid from the reservation, working hard to survive. Yes, Frankie is white, and Billy and Prudence are of Indian heritage. (Please note that "Indians" is the term the author uses in the book and, hence, its use here.) However, the social and racial differences are not what drive this book. They form an undercurrent to the book, but not the main source of conflict.

This book is and is not about the terrible accident on which the "before" and "after" of this book hinges. While on the search for an escaped prisoner, shots are fired. Someone dies. One person takes the blame. The lives of the characters are forever altered. However, even the accident has the repercussions it did because of what happened before. Someone witnesses an act of love that is perhaps forbidden, and, at the very least, hidden. Someone takes the blame for the accident as another act of love. Someone selfishly allows that to happen. This interplay of love and what it means is what drives the book.

The book, most of all, is about sexuality. Jonathan dreams of his mistresses, and an entire scene describes his masturbation. Frankie as a child is described as "a special boy" who "gave up athletics altogether" and who, according to his father, "had a hormone imbalance." A stereotype brought to life. Frankie and Billy are childhood friends, but it is clear from the earliest descriptions that they are more than friends. Prudence seems to be ready to fornicate with anyone and everyone. A plausible reason is developed, but not until close to the end of the book. Too late to look upon her actions with compassion. The book unfortunately describes the scenes graphically. Why? It serves no purpose other than an increased dislike of the characters. Sexuality and what it means is the main focal  point of the book. Unfortunately, no one character's perspective is fully developed to anchor the book. It's flashes of different experiences, leaving disparate bits and pieces of sexual thoughts and activities loosely strung together.

At the end of it all, it is a book about social norms and about a love that does not fit the social norms at the time. The rest of it - the war, the Jew, Mary, and even Prudence - are tangential to this main story and unfortunately create a set of unlikable characters and unsavory details.

A depressing and disappointing read.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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