by Pepper Harding
eARC, 288 pg.
Gallery Books, 2016
Read: September 15, 2016
“It’s funny—the day started with me thinking about distance and the speed of light—I mean, about how far away from us everything really is, and how it’s impossible to ever truly experience anything in the moment, even yourself. There’s always the mediation of time, of space, of something that comes between the self and everything else. It kind of depressed me. . . . And the thing is, this morning all I could think about was that terrible, terrible distance. And then I ran into this old friend, this old girlfriend actually, and the same feeling came over me—that distance times time equals impossible, if that makes any sense.”
Henry Quantum — there’s a name that just screams for interpretation, doesn’t it? A lot of this book seems to do that — aim for interpretation, for reviewers/readers to talk about the language, the imagery, the science metaphors, etc. It could be argued (I think it’d be wrong, but it could be argued) that more attention was given to that than to plot, characters, and whatnot (i.e., what most people read books for).
There are 4 parts to this book — the first and last are told from Henry’s POV (while being third person, just to be clear), the second from Margaret’s (Henry’s wife), and the third from someone else we meet along the way. Henry’s a would-be novelist and executive at an advertising agency in San Francisco. Henry’s wandering mind is pretty easily distracted, but then will focus intently on something for a little bit, and then go frittering way in some other direction — so we’re told. This is a long-term thing, apparently, but much worse over the last couple of years. It’s December 23, and Henry’s decided weeks ago that the perfect gift for his wife is a bottle of Chanel No. 5, but he keeps neglecting to buy it. Why he doesn’t send an assistant/intern/whatever to do it, or order it online, we’re never told. So, come hell or high water, today he’s going to get the gift.
Just after he does this one thing, and then another, and maybe . . .
Henry’s so oblivious to things that he hasn’t noticed that every woman he’s not married to seems to be attractive and that the woman he is married to wants him gone that day. This is a problem. He’s also oblivious (at least at the beginning) to how bad the state of his marriage is — even though he’s had a lot of evidence,and has worsened the marriage himself. Frankly, I don’t like the guy (as a person, or as a character), I don’t respect him — and I don’t think we’re given much of a reason to see why anyone would. We spend the day with him — up until early evening — and I liked him less and less as the day went on.
Margaret is, quite simply, worse (and no, it’s not because I’m a guy — give the wife Henry’s character/characteristics and the husband Margaret’s, I’d think just as lowly of them). We only spend the middle portion of the day with her, and I was glad to see it end. Honestly, given the trajectory she’s on, her life is about to get much worse, and I don’t see it improving without some major changes. She needs therapy, or at least a good, honest friend (and a better job).
I actually liked the person in part 3 (identity to be withheld for story reasons), and wish we got a lot more time with the character than we did. I fear however, that given the events of the novel and their poor judgment regarding Henry that their life is about to start going in a bad direction.
Through these various points of view about the events of December 23 (wandering around a shopping area, being stuck in traffic, encounters at various eating establishments) we learn a lot about these point of view characters, and explore the heart of Henry Quantum.
Can Pepper Harding write? Absolutely. Are her characters well-rounded, do they seem like they could be more than just characters in a book? Yeah. Are they (with one possible exception) people I’d like to spend any time with? Are they characters I enjoyed spending time with? Nope and nope.
While I’m not going to actively discourage you from reading this — there are some pretty good moments, I’m not really recommending it. This book was a waste of Harding’s abilities and talent and I hope her next project is a better showcase for them, for her sake as well as her readers’.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Gallery Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this (really, I mean that, no matter what I thought of the book).
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.