DNF Review: The Shark Curtain, Chris Scofield (2015)

April 24th, 2015 12:47 pm by Kelly Garbato

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Goodreads’s First Reads program. Trigger warning for sexual assault and offensive language.)

Set against the changing terrain of middle-class values and the siren calls of art and puberty, The Shark Curtain invites us into Lily Asher’s wonderful, terrible world. The older of two girls growing up in suburban Portland, Oregon, in the mid-1960s, her inner life stands in quirky contrast to the loving but dysfunctional world around her.

Often misunderstood by her flawed but well-intentioned parents, teenage Lily orbits their tumultuous love affair, embracing what embraces her back: the ghost of her drowned dog, a lost aunt, numbers, shoe boxes, werewolves, rituals, and stories she pens herself (including one about a miscarried sibling she dubs “Frog Boy”). With “regular” visits from a wisecracking Jesus, an affectionate but combative friendship is born–a friendship that strains Lily’s grasp of reality as much as her patience.

From the violence of a Peeping Tom and catching Mom in flagrante delicto with the neighbor, to jungles in her closet, butlers under her bed, and barking in public, Lily struggles to balance her family’s expectations with the visions that continue to isolate her.

DNF at 36%. I just couldn’t with the nonhuman animals.

The same thing that first drew me to The Shark Curtain was what ultimately turned me off. I had foolishly assumed (hoped?) that the “ghost dog” would already belong to the spirit world at the story’s outset. Instead, we meet Mrs. Wiggins, an elderly St. Bernard who’s dying a slow and seemingly painful death due to cancer, on page ten.

My oldest dog, Peedee, has cancer; and Bucky and Cap, my childhood dogs – incidentally, St. Bernard-collie mixes – both died of cancer when I was twelve. My heart was not ready for this.

However, Mrs. Wiggins doesn’t survive the Asher family long enough to succumb to cancer; instead, it’s a violent, tragic, and ultimately preventable accident that claims her life. All because Paul and Kit did not adequately supervise their children and their pets. Because they dragged a dying dog on a two-hour round-trip trip to the beach, despite their better judgement, because they couldn’t say no to their daughters.

Think I’m being too hard on them? Lily mentions in passing that Kit’s parakeet, Chester, died after drinking her turpentine. Mom and Dad may be a lot of things, but responsible pet owners is not one of them.

In light of Mrs. Wiggins’s demise, I found myself disliking the whole damn family, no matter how unfair a sentiment this might be. On the flip side, I guess it speaks to Scofield’s writing that she could inspire such outrage on behalf of a wholly fictional dog.

With Mrs. Wiggins’s suffering ended so early in the book (she’s dead by chapter four), I tried to get into the story. I was especially curious to see what would come of the plot line with Mr. Marks, Lily’s racist, rapey neighbor. However, Lily narrates the story, and her thinking is so rapid-fire and chaotic that it makes for a rather exhausting read. Granted, this seems to be related to her assumed, unnamed mental disorder (she shows signs of OCD and experiences auditory and visual hallucinations) – and, as someone who’s struggled with anxiety her entire life, I can certainly relate; nevertheless, it didn’t make the reading experience any more enjoyable.

And then Aunt Jamie, smitten with her new fiance, decides to sell her house and travel the world with him. In the process, she unloads her menagerie of rescue animals like so much furniture. Nope. Straw, camel, back.

This isn’t to say that The Shark Curtain is a bad book; I’m sure it has an audience. I just don’t think I’m part of it.

(This review is also available on Library Thing and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)


Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Aunt Cass has Down syndrome. Mom Kit is possibly an alcoholic. Narrator Lily may or may not suffer from a mental disorder; she exhibits symptoms of OCD and experiences visual and auditory hallucinations. The story is set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement in the ’60s; Judy’s stepfather, Mr. Marks, is a racist and a sexual predator. There might be more, but I DNF’ed at 36%.

Animal-friendly elements: Most certainly not. See my review for more.


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