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A book review by Steven Wu
August 09, 2009
|Rating: 2 (of 10)|
The narrator of The Servants is an eleven-year-old named Mark who loves his extremely sick mother and despises his new stepfather. The family lives in a beach house in Brighton, which is apparently populated by nobody besides Mark's family. Oh, and a weird old lady in the basement apartment with a door that leads to an alternate universe.
The Servants doesn't have many pieces, but none of them work, and they certainly don't fit together. The "real world" story about the relationship between Mark and his parents is dull and underwritten. It doesn't help that Mark is a dunce; the severity of his mother's illness never quite sinks in, and his stepfather's supposed character flaws are so obviously illusory that Mark's irrationality becomes annoying, rather than endearing. The resolution of these relationships is also shallow, and a mere summary (Mark's stepfather is a misunderstood saint; Mark's biological father is a cad) conveys as much psychological insight as the book itself.
Then there's the basement, and its door to another dimension. For reasons that are never entirely explained, or even hinted at, the other side of this mysterious door is a bustling turn-of-the-century household filled with frantic servants preparing a meal. Reality is somewhat elastic there -- time runs in a funny way; physical matter sometimes melts -- freaking out Mark and really, really confusing the reader.
I could never figure out what the servants were meant to be, or to represent. None of them ever became significant characters (for one thing, Mark's interactions with them are minimal), and even at the end of the book they never seemed to be anything more meaningful than fever dreams entirely unconnected to the rest of the story.
Oh, except for their ability to cure cancer. Seriously. Too bad they couldn't fix this book.
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