Joining the missing and/or murdered girl trend is So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum.
Twenty-seven-year-old Catherine Reindeer is missing. She is a beloved daughter, wife, student, waitress and book-lover. After disappearing from a parking lot of the restaurant where she worked, Catherine is on the minds of people who knew her, either intimately or in passing. Her story also echoes that of Julianna Ohlin, Catherine’s favourite poet, who was also twenty-seven when she was found dead. There are many other similarities between Catherine and Julianna, but the ending of their stories are vastly different. Rebecca Rosenblum’s So Much Love is about how the unfortunate fate of one person influences the lives and ties of those that knew them, and the different types of love and hate that sustain us.
Each chapter of So Much Love is told by a different character and focuses on either the life of Catherine or Julianna. The first chapter is from the point of view of Catherine’s professor, who lives in a quiet, loveless marriage and seems to have been infatuated with his student then devastated by her loss. Other points of view include those of Catherine’s loving husband Grey, her grieving mother, her coworkers, her kidnapper, and finally Catherine herself. These are interrupted with people from Julianna’s life like her abusive husband, her coworkers, and her ghost. There is also a chapter for Kyla, the girlfriend of dead boy Donny who spent some time with Catherine.
The point is, this book a lot of characters and I’m not sure why we should care about them all. Sure, Grey’s memories of Catherine shapes her story – which is what the book seems to be about – as do the memories of Julianna’s husband Sean, but why should we care about the memories of the professor or sad teenage Kyla or the various restaurant coworkers. Rosenblum attempted to illustrate the various, small ways that these tragedies affect seemingly random people, but within this 270 page book that is simply too many characters to follow. Their stories become diluted and irrelevant. Why should we care that Kayla kept Donny a secret from her Christian parents and only had a chance to tell them how much she loved him once he was dead? Yes, it’s a sad story, possibly interesting, but adds so very little to the story of Catherine and/or Julianna.
There were some other characters who could have added more to the story but were never heard from again after their one chapter. Catherine’s mother, for example, or her kidnapper Dex. Understanding Dex MO would have added to the thriller/mystery aspect of the novel and would have clarified the lapses in his logic. However, So Much Love doesn’t seem to be about Dex and his criminality or Catherine’s kidnapping, but about the fallout and the relationships. Sort of like Room, which spent more time on what happens after.
Spoilers begin: This is a spoiler but I simply must mention it because it infuriated me. Dex kidnaps Catherine and keeps her in his basement, but he also kidnaps Donny, a high school athlete. Now, I’m no criminal psychologist but I do read and watch a lot about true crime, and Dex’s choice of victims is so strange. Serial criminals usually have their own specific criteria/interests, be it female or male, age (children or older people), economical situation (prostitutes or homeless people), etc. Kidnapping one adult female and one teenage male makes no sense. Also, his reasoning makes no sense. Obviously he doesn’t see them as human because in his chapter he refers to them as “rabbits”, but never clarifies why he keeps them.
Also infuriating is the way that Catherine escapes. How ridiculously reckless and stupid is Dex? He comes into the basement to install new lights without restraining her, then hands her the fluorescent bulb to hold. Maybe Rosenblum’s reasoning is that he did not see her as human, or capable of rational thought, or that Dex believed that he has beat her completely into submission and she wouldn’t dare to rebel, but really? He left himself completely vulnerable. Ugh! Spoilers end.
Rosenblum does her best to make sure that there are many threads and parallels that tie Catherine and Julianna together. Both married, both waitresses, both abused, both in love with poetry/books/writing (how many times is Catherine described with loving books/reading a book/carrying a book/something-something-something-book). Rosenblum also makes sure to show their contrasts: Catherine’s loving husband versus Julianna’s abusive one; Catherine’s uncaring coworker versus Julianna protective one; Catherine’s love for poetry but her inability to write versus Julianna’s almost-published book. Yes, these exist but they don’t add to the strength of the plot, the moral. They’re just there, going “Oh look at me, aren’t I clever, I exist,” bringing up the question: So what?
Yet there are just so many other threads that Rosenblum just drops. Why Donny? Why the professor? Why Diana, the young, angry waitress and mother? Why Kyla? Their pining, their thinking, their “feels” are simply useless.
Rosenblum started her writing career by publishing two books of short stories. Which is perfectly respectful, however, her first novel So Much Love just feels like another short story collection. She is an obviously talented author, has a strong insight into people’s characters, and a great knack for writing different voices, but this novel is so rambling, so heavily dramatic, so emotionally overwrought, that I dreaded sitting down with it every single time and was so relieved when it was done. There are many references to things that are heavily specific to the Canadian location. CP24, Shoppers, Indigo, etc would mean nothing to foreign readers. It is also so obvious in the writing that Rosenblum worked as a waitress and at the bookstore Indigo, and that she has an obsession with poetry and literature. Even though, that yes, maybe it adds to the “believability” of the novel, but it is also incredibly distracting. Both of the main characters (and a couple of the secondary ones) were defined by books, books, books, books, poetry, poetry, poetry, poetry.
I really want to see something better from Rosenblum and I believe that one day we will get it.
I received an ARC of So Much Love from a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. I want to thank Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a copy.