Rating: 1/2 star
From the book jacket of Charley's Web by Joy Fielding:
Charley Webb is a beautiful single mother who writes a successful and controversial column for the Palm Beach Post. She's spent years building an emotional wall against scathing critics, snooty neighbors, and her disapproving family. But when she receives a letter from Jill Rohmer, a young woman serving time on death row for the murders of three small children, her boundaries slowly begin to fade. Jill wants Charley to write her biography so that she can share the many hidden truths about the case that failed to surface during her trial. Seeing this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Charley begins her journey into the mind of this deeply troubled woman.
Her path takes a twisted turn, however, when the anonymous letters she's recently received from an angry reader evolve into threats, targeting her son and daughter. As Charley races against time to save her family, she begins to understand the value of her seemingly intrusive neighbors, friends, and relatives. As she discovers, this network of flawed but loving people might just be her only hope of getting out alive.
I don't know where to start with Charley's Web. I really don't. This "mystery" was so abysmal that I couldn't find any real redemptive qualities to it, both while completely sober and while under the influence of 10mg of OxyContin following major abdominal surgery. (Drugs theoretically make everything better, right? Not in this case...)
It starts out with a rambling email that appears to be written by a Hemingway-wannabe, and that is so detailed and descriptive as to be absolutely ludicrous. Seriously. When have you ever seen an email or letter written by anybody - disgruntled jerk or otherwise - that goes so far as to describe its recipient as having "long, wavy, blond hair, the knowing glance from large, downcast eyes, the subtle smirk on those no doubt Restylane-enhanced lips"? There is absolutely nothing natural about that kind of wording, especially in that context.
From there, it gets worse. The same "voice" continues even after the email ends, indicating that it isn't merely some technique for illustrating how ridiculous that particular email author might be due to the abuse and overuse of unnecessary fifty-cent words and descriptives. This style continues through the first four chapters, and is found in almost all the numerous communications directed at Charley, which further reduces realism. After the fourth chapter, such heavy-handedness seems to lighten up a bit, but Charley's Web does not become any better of a read.
All too often it reads like several poorly-done popular movies, or even the Karla Homolka / Paul Bernardo murders. Of course, once we know that one of the central characters is a convicted sex-slayer of children, and that Charley herself is a mother of two, it isn't difficult to see the obvious plot "twist" from about twenty miles down the road. One of the characters surrounding Charley is pretty clearly nothing more than an initial red herring effort, who all but completely disappears from the story until the end when he is suddenly brought back into the picture as an eleventh-hour white knight. (How cute, tidy and convenient!)
While I'm at it, I'd also like to pick a bone with the author about her socially irresponsible and obviously un-researched use of psychiatric terminology in regards to the villainous character of Jill Rohmer. On page 193, it reads,
"...In it, you describe Jill as having a 'borderline personality disorder', meaning..."
"Meaning that she's intensely narcissistic and lacks the basic human emotions, including empathy."
That particular discussion is even more blunderous as it continues. Borderline personality disorder is nothing like the way it is being portrayed in this context, nor would the behaviors and crimes of Jill Rohmer be indicative of Borderline Personality Disorder. I guess she doesn't realize there are many people in this world who actually think these books are well-enough researched to be reasonably good sources for such general information. *sigh* How ignorant, both on the part of the author and on the part of readers with such preconceptions.
I also take some pretty serious issue with the more lurid descriptions of the crimes perpetrated upon the young victims of the murderers portrayed in this book. Such descriptions may have been brief, but were unnecessarily graphic and sensationalist. I am not only appalled that anyone would ever even imagine doing such things to children (although we know from the daily news that they do), but I find it disgusting and abhorrent that such deeds and their descriptions would be capitalized upon as a source of would-be mass entertainment.
Honestly, this is easily one of the most poorly written books I have ever read in my life. It is one bad cliche after another, predictable even when under the influence of enough heavy narcotics to make coherent speech impossible, and offensive in so many respects as to be beyond redemption. I am not only mortified that I actually paid good money for this book when it could have been better spent elsewhere, but I am seriously looking into whether Doubleday has any sort of refund policy.
I'm having a hard time trying to figure out how to even dispose of this book - I have no pets who can use it for their litter, I don't wish to inflict it upon anybody else by donating it anywhere, and I am too environmentally conscious to just immediately chunk it in the trash. In this case, though, environmental consciousness may end up being outweighed by the outrage I feel over wasting roughly 6 hours of my life on this book. That's 6 hours that would have been better spent staring out a hospital window, playing with a catheter bag, or making balloons with latex gloves and the oxygen set-up.
The Editor-in-Chief has made copious editorial changes to this review to make it more palatable for sensitive site visitors. These changes consist almost solely of the removal of specific, descriptive and potentially incendiary passages from the original. (Poor l'il Editor.) As such, it doesn't fully reflect my complete and utter revulsion for this book. The half-star rating provided is credit where it's due for halfway decent cover art.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pub. Date: March 2008