‘Ten Days’ by Janet Gilsdorf

* I received an advance copy of Ten Days from the publisher, Kensington via NetGalley.

It’s confirmed. I like writing that is spare, concise but still full of meaning and warmth. Big, long, flowery sentences don’t necessarily equal meaning and warmth (the exception is Emily Perkins’ masterpiece, The Forrests). When I was in high school I had a fabulous English teacher who would rap us over the knuckles (not literally) when she saw us reaching for the thesaurus – “Just use your own words,” she’d say, “I don’t want a fruit salad.” Can you see where this review is heading?

Ten Days by Janet Gilsdorf is the story of Anna and Jake, married for six years with a three-year-old, Chris, and baby Eddie. Anna is a teacher and Jake an orthopedic surgeon – their life is full of the ordinary routine (and daily grind) that goes with raising kids, running a household and holding down a job. Then one night, Eddie gets sick.

When Anna phones Jake at work to seek advice, he reassures her that Eddie has just caught her cold. But with the morning light comes the terrible realisation that Eddie is seriously ill (meningitis). Guilt-ridden and shell-shocked, Anna doesn’t leave Eddie’s bedside in the ICU where he teeters between life and death. In the days that follow Eddie’s diagnosis, grief gives way to recrimination and accusations.

There are two sub-plots within the story – the ‘outbreak’ of meningitis in the family daycare home where Eddie and Chris are cared for and Jake’s temptation to reignite an old affair. Without dwelling on either of these sub-plots, the first fitted well with the story and added an interesting dimension for action to take place outside of the hospital. However the second, Jake’s ‘affair’, was unnecessary.

It’s obviously subjective but I really didn’t enjoy Gilsdorf’s overly descriptive writing style. It seemed over-worked and I like more ‘space’ around my words. For example –

“His face looked dispassionate, its profile stolid against the cloudless sky. His clean-shaven jaw, the knob on his nose from a hockey mishap, his shaggy eyebrows. These features – his entire body – were as familiar to her as breathing. Yet who was he? Why could he let Chris get lost? At this moment he was a stranger. At his core he was unknowable to her.”

and

“Earlier in the day she caught the smell of spring – fresh and crisp as young parsley – while it rode the breeze, a welcome hint of warmer weather to come. The days had grown longer and the air had finally lost its winter bite: patches of emerald dotted the strawcolored lawn. She was eager for summer, for lilacs and irises and daylilies and tomatoes off the vine.”

Just two examples of many – I felt like I was wading through words.

My other gripe was with the character of Jake. Liking a character is not a pre-requisite of mine but I do need to believe the character. Unfortunately, Jake’s actions and attitude were totally unbelievable. He’s established as a calm, reasonable guy who, due to the nature of his work, handles a crisis well. BUT he is also a parent, with his baby clinging to life. His attitude toward Anna and Chris, and his ‘straying’ with an ex really seemed outside of what I would expect.

“He was fed up with the whole show. Although Eddie wasn’t getting worse, he wasn’t making terrific progress, either. He was still on the ventilator. No one knew how anything with Eddie would turn out. And the Chris problem. He was a terror. Wetting the bed. Sucking his thumb. Whining, throwing things, refusing to behave. Worst of all, Anna was not the woman he married…she had turned into a complainer, a demander, a yeller and, yet, in a quick moment, she could suddenly turn into a whimpering lump, incapable of coping with anything. This was new. The Anna he loved was kind and fair. Even when they disagreed – about the basement tile, for example – she listened to his ideas.”

Um….HELLO! HER BABY IS DYING! How can Jake compare Anna’s reaction to her baby clinging to life to picking out floor tiles?! I’m sorry, as a parent, I just don’t think this is the stuff that would be running through your head while your baby is on life support.

The end papers and notes for Ten Days were interesting. Gildorf is a doctor and the story was inspired by her work – “Parents are hardwired to protect their children, and an ill child brings out the best and worst in them.” I suspect that Gilsdorf applied the ‘worst behaviour’ to the character of Jake but again, it was off-target.

Ten Days really should go with hospital food but who wants to eat hospital food?! Instead, pair it with a comfort dish – macaroni cheese, this one with bacon because everything’s better with bacon.

2/5 The basic premise of this book – parents with a very sick child – was enough to keep me turning the pages but overall, the writing style didn’t appeal to me.

2 responses

  1. And the Chris problem. Despite it meaning to be serious, that made me laugh a little. That is nearly every three year old (aside from the thumb sucking), it’s not a problem, it’s a stage. I think I’ll be skipping this one 🙂

  2. Pingback: ‘Fractured’ by Dawn Barker | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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