Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Shadow of Your Smile

CLARK, MARY HIGGINS. The Shadow of Your Smile. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-4391-7226-1. Pp. 319. $25.00.

Olivia Morrow. Clay Hadley. Monica Farrell. Ryan Jenner. Sally Carter. Sammy Barber. Douglas Langdon. Michael O'Keefe. The Gannons. These are the names of most of the characters in Mary Higgins Clark's thriller. I'm as surprised as you are. I had no idea New York City had such an exclusively Anglo-Saxon population. Of course, there is a driver/waiter named Garcia and a Polish cleaning lady named Rutkowski. Of course, who ever heard of a WASP driving a cab anyway? Although WASP isn't actually the right acronym I'm looking for, since everyone in New York City is Catholic. And takes a cab to work and back. And has a next door neighbor who's a retired detective.

I refrain from identifying this novel as a "mystery," if only because, like James Patterson's Swimsuit, there is no mystery. Unless the mystery is finding out how many people are going to get bumped off before the baddies get caught and face the consequences. I'll just go ahead and tell you now: 3. The conspiracy behind it all is an old-fashioned squabble over inheritance money that's already been squandered by the time the novel takes place. At the end of the novel, when the real heiress discovers that she is, in fact, an heiress, there's no money to inherit. Kind of anticlimactic, if you ask me. Of course, Clark's philosophy is that "blood is thicker than water" (i.e. adopted children aren't as lovable as one's own) and that only children are the saddest kind of children. The rightful heiress may not get any money, but at least she has a family now. Except that the family is murderously greedy. So I guess she doesn't really get anything. 

Maybe it goes without saying, but Mary Higgins Clark has an almost spectacular lack of imagination. I think it's been mathematically proven that the more books one writes, the less creative one is. I believe it was the great horror writer Garth Marenghi who famously said: "I've written more books than I've read". (Note: Garth Marenghi is not a real person.) For example, in The Shadow of Your Smile, Greg Gannon is a descendant of Alex Gannon, whose medical patents provided the family with a vast amount of wealth. Therefore, Greg Gannon is married to Pamela, who likes jewelry, wears "breathtakingly expensive perfume," and is often mistaken for Catherine Zeta-Jones. We all already know that it's a cheap trick to describe a character in a novel in comparison to a celebrity. But to compare a character to a celebrity who also happens to have played the role of said character (see Zeta-Jones in "Intolerable Cruelty") is pushing the limits of banality. It might not even be worth mentioning that Pamela is a cliched stereotype to begin with.

My other bone that needs picking is Clark's use of frequent and drawn out inner-monologues, from which I've learned that people think very deliberately, and in complete sentences. For example, Monica Farrell, the novel's heroine, has escaped being assassinated once, and is also falling puritanically in love with a fellow doctor, Ryan Jenner. Her inner-workings: "Ryan may call at anytime...I'll keep both phones right next to me and close my eyes. I don't think I'll fall asleep, but if I do I just can't miss his call. I need him". Monica isn't the only one who thinks in whole sentences; these dully drawn out personal musings are everywhere, unnecessary and tedious. Not unlike this book.

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