The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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October 8, 2012

Lee Duran: Number of characters in new Rowling book daunting

JOPLIN, Mo. — Peggy Marsh was a smart writer. She turned out a blockbuster novel and then quit writing.

Why is this smart? Because it’s really hard to follow up success with success, even if your maiden name is Margaret Mitchell and your book is “Gone With the Wind.”

That came out many years ago, so why am I thinking about it now? Because J.K. Rowling’s new book -- her first for adults -- has just been published, and it doesn’t look as if the transition from kid books will be an easy ride.

The new book is “The Casual Vacancy,” and anyone looking for a story similar to Rowling’s blockbuster “Harry Potter” is in for a big disappointment.

I didn’t read any of the “Harry Potter” books, despite the fact that all kinds of people wanted me to give it them a try. No matter how good they might be, I simply wasn’t interested in the story, and I don’t have time to read to make somebody else happy.

Then I saw a review of “Vacancy” that said some 20 characters were introduced in the beginning of the book, and that did it for me. I hate books with so many characters introduced in a bunch, making it impossible to keep them all straight. So I guess this book is off my list, too.

For the curious, the story is about a vacancy on the Pagford Parish Council and the fight for the empty seat. According to the Publishers Weekly review, there’s a massive divide between the haves and the have-nots.

Here’s the deal, so try to keep this straight: An obstreperous teenager hooks up with the middle-class son of her guidance counselor. A social counselor watches over the girl’s drug-addled mother, who dates the law partner of the son of the dead Pagford councilman. The girl’s great-grandmother’s doctor was the dead man’s closest ally. The daughters of the doctor and the social worker work together, along with the best friend of É

That’s enough. Thank you, PW, for that enlightenment, but I’ve gone about as far as I can go with it. PW called Rowling “relentlessly competent,” whatever that may mean. “All these people and their hatreds and hopes are established and mixed together. Secrets are revealed, relationships twist and break, and the book rolls toward its awful, logical climax with aplomb.”

Conclusion: While the characters are all well-drawn and believable, they aren’t much fun. I’ll pass.     

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