There are some books you read, and you salute the author’s intentions. But you have to conclude that his reach exceeds his grasp. So it is with Bill Cronin’s The Song of the Mockingbird.
The book opens in 1995, when bestselling author Jack McNamara’s life is falling apart. His creativity has been blocked for months, and a publisher’s deadline is fast approaching, after which he’ll have to return a million dollar advance. On top of that his wife, whom he loves, has left him. To prove to her he’s trying to solve his problem, he sees a therapist, who tells him his problems seem to center on the summer of 1961, when he was a young teenager.
1961 was a whiplash year for Jack. He sold his first short story, to his mother’s great pride. He suddenly learned he had a half-sister, who moved in and quickly became his best friend. And he acquired a girlfriend.
Then his hero, Ernest Hemingway, committed suicide, fulfilling a prophecy made by his emotionally abusive father. And his half-sister left suddenly, without explanation. And he lost his girlfriend due to a horrible crime.
Jack returns to his childhood home, Hollywood, Florida, to try to pick up the threads of the past and learn what really happened, what secrets were hidden from him.
I appreciate the attempt author Cronin makes with this book. But the novel we have is not the novel he’s trying to deliver.
First of all, when a narrator tells us he’s a bestselling author, and that Hemingway is his hero and role model, he needs to write a book that’s Hemingwayesque. The Song of the Mockingbird is not Hemingwayesque. Cronin is too wordy, too inexact with his word choices. His prose, especially his dialogue, does not snap with perfect lines as Hemingway’s does. He fires a verbal shotgun, not a rifle.
Also, an intended Big Surprise about 2/3 of the way through was obvious to me a mile off. And the book’s characters display conventional (for our day) reverse sexism – of the three male characters in a female-dominated book, one is a black man (who obviously gets a pass), and another is sheer stereotype, more bigoted than Archie Bunker. Every female is admirable.
I was interested enough in the story to read it through to the end. But I’m not interested enough to buy the two sequels. Nice try, but this is not a successful work.