There are only a few cardinal rules for a writer: you must not be boring (I’m looking at you, Trust by Hernan Diaz, whom I can pick on because you won a Pulitzer Prize). You must also not have plot holes (Doerr, what were you thinking? I haven’t finished Cloud Cuckoo Land yet, so I suppose there’s still time to explain yourself). Christina Baker Kline breaks neither of these rules, but the TWO she does break are, infinitely, worse. If you’ve read the book, you know that the first broken rule comes midway through the story. When I got there, I was so shocked, I stopped to yell at my husband about it. He agreed (“awful, yes, absolutely awful, now can I get back to my own reading?”). It wasn’t until the last line of the book that I realized she broke a second rule. And that’s when I let out a sound that, according to previously mentioned husband, reminded him of an angry goat.
But I can’t lie and say I didn’t enjoy every moment of The Exiles—the 19th century settings, the beautifully crafted angst and perseverance of each character, and the intricately detailed land and seascapes that do exactly what the reader is hoping for, transport them to a new place and time. Above all, it is the Australian history lesson that is peopled and fashioned in such a way that I feel, even now, that I’ve visited this place, spent time walking the wind-ravaged terrain, heard the Brushtail Possums screeching at each other all night, smelled the salted air that is sharpened by a taste from a foreign, frozen continent. I traveled with Kline’s book, and for that, I am grateful.
Read The Exiles to learn about the crushing lack of choice the white settlers created for the indigenous people, the terrible trap from which they are still trying to extricate themselves. Read the book to pay careful attention to the choices the women in the story make, along with the choices that are taken away from them. And read it to learn what rules Kline broke, then private message me so we can complain to each other about it, lol.
Wondering what a Brushtail Possum looks like? Here you go, and I’m sorry…
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