The Eternal Engagement

July 18, 2014

The Eternal Engagement. Mary B. Morrison. 2012. Dafina Books. 288 pages. [Source: personal copy.]

I took a chance on The Eternal Engagement because I wanted to take advantage of it being on audio book.  So this review will reflect both the book itself as well as the audio production.  My experience with audio books has generally been positive.  It’s an easy way to get some “reading” done while you physically can’t put your nose in a book. I listen while I’m driving, grocery shopping, and walking around.  I thought this story would be a compelling read, but I was disappointed.

The story itself focused on four characters whose lives and relationships are entwined disastrously. Lincoln somehow manages to propose to (with the same style ring) and impregnate both his girlfriend Katherine and his ex, Mona-Lisa literally moments before his high school graduation. The rest of the book follows Lincoln’s ten-year stint in the Army, Mona-Lisa’s impulsive and volatile marriage to long-time friend, Steven, and Katherine’s attempts to maintain her image while raising her son as a single mother under her judgmental mother’s eye.

To its credit, this book is aptly titled. It never seemed to end. Morrison’s style of bouncing from the perspectives of each character was unnecessary and is probably why the book dragged along for so much longer than it needed. That, coupled with frustrating characters and a plot that was neither believable nor compelling, meant that the only reason I finished was simply to have the satisfaction of getting through it.

The character development was lacking. Each had their basic development and rarely deviated from it. Mona-Lisa was completely self-centered and only out for her benefit. For her being an adult, her thought processes and actions were extremely juvenile. Katherine was supposed to be her polar opposite – well-educated, hard-working, and respectable. Unfortunately, both ended up simply being one-dimensional. I also found it difficult to believe that both women would pine away for a man who disappeared without a trace for ten years after proposing. That they remained with him after he blatantly had sex with and used both for money literally made me roll my eyes. Both seemed foolish and their actions definitely were consistent. The same is said for Lincoln and Stephen. Lincoln grapples with PTSD, and while Morrison hints at a discussion of significant issues for vets, such as difficulty finding work, the need for counseling, adjustment to civilian life, substance abuse, etc., she does so in such a cursory manner that it almost comes off as trivial and contrived.

The plot had many holes in it. For this story to originate in a small Alabama town, the four seemed to have managed to keep their business out of the streets remarkably well. Katherine’s job as a prominent local newscaster makes this premise even less believable. Further, Mona-Lisa and Stephen’s financial abundance and everyone’s gullibility around it is laughable. Morrison’s approach to tying the story together in the end manages to still leave the reader unsure of what happened. It’s not particularly logical and seems more of an attempt to end the booth than to actually resolve anything.

I also found Morrison’s descriptions tedious and, at times, redundant. I’ve read authors who can pull off describing the layout and furnishings of a room for several pages; she has not demonstrated the same ability to make the simple that engaging. Given that the pacing of the book was slow itself, adding drawn-out descriptions that didn’t improve the story was unfortunate.

Given that my “reading” of The Eternal Engagement was via an audio book, I acknowledge that it gave me a different experience, but not one that could redeem poor writing. Read by Allyson Johnson, I found that Johnson’s accents and attempts at different dialects were off-base. When she read as normal, I found it fine – she had a pleasant voice and her own inflections were fine. It would have been better for her not to have tried to provide the variations, because they were distracting and were part of why I didn’t want to continue listening. Moreover, the random attempts at sound affects were so sporadic and poorly produced that again, an absence would have been preferred.

For once, I’m sad to say I can’t recommend a book. The plot wasn’t engaging enough to justify my time. The character flaws, the poor plot and unnecessary length left too much to be desired. I’ve heard better feedback about Morrison’s other books, so perhaps she met expectations with those. Too bad she fell short here.

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