Cottage on the Curve

June 26, 2017

I’m unenthusiastic about Mary Lamers’ Cottage on the Curve, but I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it.

There’s a family, and they’re a nice family. They live in Wisconsin, and they have a summer cottage not far out of their town. There’s a mom and a dad and four kids, and they’re good kids. Janie, 13, gets what seems like an unfair share of the responsibility for good behavior. Billy, 12, has a round face. James, 10, eats a lot, and maybe likes books? Davey, 6, has a pet monkey.

The kids go swimming, and weed the garden, and there’s a 4th of July party and James falls off the roof. There’s some theoretically exciting stuff with an elderly hermit and a fire. Everyone collects stamps and also pets. The illustrations are nice, like an amateurish Pelagie Doane.

Guys. I was super, super bored.

Maybe it’s just that this is one of those kids’ books that hold nothing for adults. Maybe I would have liked it as a kid. I think I would have liked it more than I do now, anyway. Maybe it’s just not doing anything to my brain. I bet people who had an upbringing anything like the one in this book would get something out of it, but for me, it’s got to be one of the least challenging books I’ve ever read.


  1. It sounds more like a day-in-the-life kind of story than something with an actual plot, or character development.

    • Very much so. Which I’m fine with in theory, but there has to be something to draw you in.

  2. I had a too-stressed day, so boring sounded like about the right speed. And it was. And you’re right, it’s not a very good book.

    I think this confirms my prior opinion that it’s actually much harder to write really readable “puttery” books than it is to write readable plot-packed books. If there’s no particular plot arc, then the book has to lean pretty hard on characters/characterization, prose style/authorial voice, and vivid description. There were a few good bits in the book, but, uh, not many. If you can’t make the capture of a turtle (and its escort home via water) particularly interesting, there is not much hope…

    That said, I think it had “enough” in it to have made a good book in someone else’s hands, but I don’t know that I could do better at writing this book given that “enough”; there’s no specific “ah, that’s the mistake” item I could identify in the catalogue of writing errors. More vivid writing would have helped; better selection of what to include and what not to include would have helped; making the characters people you care about would have helped (it occasionally happened briefly!); more details about some things and fewer details about others would have helped. But all of those require intelligence and selection rather than rote editing (which you can use to fix “too much passive voice” or “too much identical sentence structure” and things like that). Oh, well.

    It was interesting reading something from the 40’s for once, and also potentially of historical note that all the fancy salads were unmolded – implying that none of the fancy salads lacked gelatin, which is a somewhat appalling thought…

    • 100% this. Books without a plot can be great, but they have to be giving you something. Lamers had some interesting character moments here and there, but they didn’t really build to anything. And the parts that were meant to be the most exciting were probably the least.

      The food stuff was interesting–I had to look up what a noodle ring was. Maybe the gelatin was what made the salads fancy?

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