Monday, September 11, 2017

The Readymade Thief

Title:  The Readymade Thief
Author:  Augustus Rose
Publication Information:  Viking. 2017. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0735221839 / 978-0735221833

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "To make your way to the DePaul Aquarium and Museum of Natural History, on Petty Island in the middle of the Delaware River, you can drive through New Jersey and over the only bridge."

Favorite Quote:  "What do you do when the one true thing in your life turns out to be a lie?"

The story of the thief begins in the middle. Someone from the past has found her, and she does not want to be found. Lee Cuddy is only seventeen years old and has already been through a lot in her life. She is living on the periphery of society, under the radar, making do as best as she can.

There is a lot going on in this book. Shoplifting. Teenage angst. Child abuse. Homeless teenagers. Criminal cults. Murder. Physics theories. Ancient codes embedded in art work. Internet hackers. Sex trade. Drugs. Corruption. Love story. Teenage pregnancy. Those are just the things I remember.

It makes for an entertaining read up to a point. After a while, too much becomes just that. Too much. Following Lee's story is like jumping from one thing to the next to the next to the next. The fact that the book starts in the middle adds to that feeling because the story both moves forward and fills in the back story. So, the jumps occur in all directions. Oddly, even with all that encapsulated in one book, the book is at times slow moving. Overall, I keep thinking that less may have been more in this situation.

The connections in Lee's story are also at times unbelievable. Chance plays a big factor. People in Lee's seem either really really evil towards her or really really nice. Even some people who are complete strangers help her in a way that is not entirely believable. Even when they suffer for it, they continue to help. Yes, people like that exist in the world. However, the characters in this book are either one extreme or the other, and that is not realistic.

The scientific bent and the connection to the art world in this book comes through the works of Marcel Duchamp, a French artist. The book features the Société Anonyme as the name of a group. Duchamp with others started a society by that name for the promotion, exhibit, and collection of art. His piece, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (also known as The Large Glass), is the work around which this story centers. Interestingly, Duchamp also had a series of works knows as the Readymades, found objects which he chose to collect and exhibit as art. That connection is not followed in the book, but makes for a possible reason for the title.

The connection to the art world has led to a comparison of this book to Dan Brown's books. For me, that comparison does a disservice to this book. The book does feature Marcel Duchamp's art works, but there is so much else going on that it becomes just a part of the story not the heart of the story as it is with Dan Brown's books. In addition, while the book itself is atmospheric and descriptive, that descriptive style does not extend to the works of art being discussed. In fact, having read the book, I can visualize the fictional places and events described but cannot visualize the real art pieces. I enjoyed learning about the work through the research I did while reading.

The imaginative and colorful descriptions of the places in the book are my favorite part. An abandoned museum. Underground tunnels that wind their way through the city. A building with a clown's head. A building called the Crystal Castle. The vivid descriptions create a suitably creepy and dark atmosphere that underlies this story and remains the most memorable part of the writing.

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

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