I'm a sucker for first time novelists, but I'm also an admittedly harsh critic of their follow up works. If the first novel is descent, I'll read the second; if it's not as good as the first I give the author one last try. If I had ever actually dated, instead of being a serial monogamist, this would probably have been the system I used to determine whether or not to keep a guy around. It's fair, I think. I've used it before on Curtis Sittenfeld (she ended up passing), Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (they failed miserably), and am still waiting for Janet Fitch's third (White Oleander was good; Paint it Black was painfully horrible). It works for me.
Recently I acquired the ARC for The Red House, by Mark Haddon, his third novel. His first book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, was quite successful, and I enjoyed the quirky story about an autistic teen's mystery. This would be the equivalent to a guy maybe taking you to a great concert in the park or an eclectic art exhibit, followed up with a dinner at a fantastic hole-in-the-wall bistro and some quality second-ish base action (I'm trying to think what this would have said ten years ago...). Haddon's follow-up attempt, A Spot of Bother, the story of a hypochondriac father, did not end up being nearly as enjoyable. The charming guy from the first date decided to take you to a Transformers movie, Applebee's and then passed out on his couch after an hour of sports highlights (as if the folding, talking cars weren't bad enough). The score was tied- his third would decide his fate.
Applebee's again? What the hell?
The Red House definitely fell short of the expectations Haddon set forth with his first novel. It's not that The Curious Incident was an extraordinary piece of literature, but it offered a unique perspective and tried to be a little different. I don't feel like Haddon has achieved either since his debut. The Red House was boring at times, denied its characters of any depth, and failed to adequately handle some of the issues it brought forth (bullying, adultery, and teenage homosexuality). I also take issue with the fact that the publisher gave the novel a disgusting amount of praise on the back cover, claiming it to be a "literary tour de force," that the novel will "entrance" readers" and is "brilliant." The Applebee's boy is claiming that he'll keep you out and up all night long when in fact he's snoring before nine with leftover chicken wings on the coffee table.
And, for the record, I worked at Applebee's one summer in college, therefore giving me full right to use it negatively. This is not an "impress your date" kind of restaurant, boys. It's one you go to when you're married and have three kids whp will probably spill their french fries on the floor and cry when they let their balloons go (again).
Off to read John Irving- he's definitely not an Applebee's man.