Lengthy Backstory, Character Study Slows Novel

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The Book of Love and Hate

Lauren Sanders

$15.95, paperback, Oct. 3

Akashic Books

Billed as “one part literary novel, one part international espionage thriller, with some eroticism to boot,” The Book of Love and Hate by Lauren Sanders fails to deliver.

It’s not that it’s poorly written or that the main character — Jennifer Baron, a Jewish one-time Olympic speed skater now struggling with sobriety — isn’t well defined.

It’s just that Jennifer is perhaps too well defined. It takes more than 100 pages (out of 299) before we get to the meat of the action. We first get pages upon pages of description of Jennifer’s back story as well as her present-day struggles, while bits of the plot start to surface.

Given that Jennifer seems to be the unlikable kind of mopey character omnipresent in today’s literary and cinematic worlds, it’s tempting to put the book down well before the main story kicks in.

If you manage to keep reading, you eventually get to the plot: Twenty years after her speed skating career ended unsuccessfully at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, Jennifer is overseeing a charitable foundation her billionaire father founded.

Jennifer runs into her father’s former business associate (and lover) Gila, who convinces her to smuggle information out of the country.

The story doesn’t end there, however. The morally suspect father is on the run from both the federal government and the Jewish Mafia, and rumors arise about his death in Jerusalem.

Meantime, conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is rearing its ugly head. Jennifer ignores that by trying to figure out what really happened to her father and also to find Gila, whose successful seduction has become an obsession.

Plenty of successful thrillers have worked featuring a far-less developed plot, but The Book of Love and Hate never really clicks. The story’s engrossing enough, but it’s weighted down by too much exposition.

In the acknowledgements, Sanders notes that The Book of Love and Hate started life as a short story and likely would have worked better as one or even two — a quick rewrite would allow the first 100 pages to stand on their own, and the main plot could easily be condensed, too.

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