Lou, a young Black woman, wakes up in an alley in 1930s Los Angeles with no memory of how she got there or where she’s from. Lou dedicates herself to her education while trying to put her mysterious origins behind her. She befriends a firefighter at a downtown boxing gym, Lou is shocked to realize that though she has no memory of meeting him, she’s been drawing his face for years.
Increasingly certain that their paths previously crossed—and beset by unexplainable flashes from different eras haunting her dreams—Lou begins to believe she may be an immortal sent here for a very important reason, one that only others like her can explain. Setting out to investigate the mystery of her existence, Lou must make sense of the jumble of lifetimes calling to her, just as new forces threaten the existence of those around her.Amazon
This is my spoiler-free book review for The Perishing by Natashia Deón
I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.
Why This Book?
I am in the Book Of The Month club and sometimes the titles just get added to my TBR stack and sometimes I am so excited about a book I read it right away. That was the case with this book. The description had me hooked and I couldn’t wait to read it.
(By the way, if you want to check out Book of the Month or -#BOTM- use my link!)
Atmosphere / Writing Style
The blurb on the back doesn’t do justice. This book is very… cerebral. There are multiple timelines happening and while one is pretty straightforward, at least in terms of narrative flow, the other is a bit all over the place. Whole sections are not really there to progress the story but to have our main character wax poetic about all manner of things. I get the point of these interludes, I think, but they seemed more like distracting interruptions rather than things that fleshed out the world or the character.
Outside of that, the writing was lovely. It was poetic and detailed. Deón definitely utilized all our senses to immerse us in the world she has created. That world, by the way, is mostly LA in the early 1930s and it is vibrant, leaping off the page. When she meandered back and forth in time, however, she seemed to lose a bit of her ability to really capture a setting.
There is a main character who is mostly called Lou but who also speaks to us from another point in time where they remain unnamed. Lou was a blank slate, to begin with, and even as she became a more realized individual, she never seemed to progress past one dimension on the page. Things happened to Lou and Lou said and did things… but I never really felt that I understood Lou or her motivations.
There are a few fun side characters but they also stay one-dimensional.
This was both the best and worst part of this book. When we were in the 1930s, there was a story that seemed to be progressing. When we were in the other points in time… there was just a hint of a story and a lot of vagueness that seemed there to create mood and atmosphere but never really gave us enough to work with. Perhaps this book benefits from a second reading, but I doubt I will give it that.
Speaking of the 1930s plot… the ending or resolution that happens is… unsettling. It is slightly ambiguous but clearly, we are supposed to understand at least 50% of what is happening and yet we haven’t really been given enough information to get there, and therefore it is hard to really care.
Also? There is a last-minute “twist/villain” that literally comes out of nowhere -and not in a good way- and seems to be a part of something much bigger and more nefarious… was this going to be the first in a series? Maybe this is just an overly long prologue? I don’t know. And that is annoying.
The book is speculative fiction but the rules of the “speculation” part are never clearly stated or, it seems, understood by the characters operating within them. This was frustrating. I really liked the concept of this book and I really wanted to love it. And yet. I spent too much time wondering if an explanation was coming and then being disappointed at the wasted potential of such lovely writing.
There are some really interesting historical bits here. I loved reading a book about LA told with the same rigorous loyalty that we only often see in New York books. But… this wasn’t historical fiction. As a speculative fiction book, it feels mostly flat.
Would I recommend it?
I hate that I am not likely to recommend this book. Again, it might benefit from a second read, and if I didn’t have a huge TBR stack (well, TBR bookcase) with new books arriving monthly, I might revisit it. But as it is…. Sigh.
I am not sure who I would recommend it to… too speculative to be just historical, too narrative to be poetry, too confusing, and internally inconsistent to be speculative… It was fiction but it touched on some very important social and historical things that should not be only discussed in the world of speculation and make believe. So… I am left feeling unfulfilled and sad mostly because of the wasted potential of the premise and the lyrical writing.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?