Saturday, January 10, 2015

"Sometimes they grow up together quite successfully": A Review of Tabitha King's "One on One"

Started: January 1st, 2015
Finished: January 10th, 2015

As you can tell from the dates above, it took me a whole ten whopping days to finish Tabitha King's follow-up to Pearl, 1993's One on One. I'd like to blame that on a number of factors, especially starting classes starting back and returning to work after a two week break. Honestly, though, I just had a few too many problems with it to be able to finish it in the normal length of time it takes for me to complete a 500-page novel (3-4 days). It wasn't bad -- there are too many interesting characters and too much of a compelling story here to deem it "bad," or anything less than average, really. It just fell short of my expectations that were heightened after the earthy, raw, and fun adventure that was Pearl. Maybe that's a little unfair of me, and it's more than unfair to One on One, but it's true. However, expectations aside, this novel simply has a number of things that work against it, and they cannot be ignored.

For instance, King has a habit in this book of using certain words in this book -- "friggin", "wenches", "dink" -- over and over and over and over again ad nauseum. This is not something that usually bothers me while reading, unless it's severe . . . and in this case, it is. Seriously. This book is filled with supposed modern day teen guys calling girls "wenches" -- who talks like that? I don't know why this particular issued stuck in my crawl so much, but alas, it did.

Another seemingly minor problem is the lack of Pearl (the title character from Tabby's previous novel). In my opinion, she's King's best character to date, and it's a shame she isn't given more stage-time in the story, besides a few scenes in the role of Sam Styles's (son of Reuben Styles, one of Pearl's lovers in Pearl) new stepmother. It just seems like sort of a waste to me, because Pearl was such a spitfire character before who came alive and pretty much walked off the page, and now she's reglected to a few lines of dialogue here and there, and even those don't seem like they're coming from the person of the novel from before. Luckily, Reuben has some good parts in the story, and there are more than one heartwarming moment between him and his son.

I'd like to add one more thing to my gripe-fest before moving on to the positive aspects of the novel: the sex. Okay, I do not mind sex in literature as long as it isn't heavy-handed and is handled tastefully. This book, honestly, gets mired in all sorts of sexual encounters and fantasies.  I don't care to go into too much detail, but I feel like an editor should have weeded some of this out. It's not badly written -- it just gets repetitive and distracts from the story.

Okay, so for the things that do work: namely, the two main characters. This book is, first and foremost, a basketball story, and the two main characters are on the basketball teams at the local high school -- Sam Styles on the boys' and Deanie Gauther (AKA "the mutant") on the girls'. Both teams are really good, and these two are the stars of his and her respective team. The story is about the evolvement of their relationship from strangers that run in different social circles (Sam is a popular do-gooder; The Mutant is a burnout with a shaven head) to friends to lovers as they each try to lead their team to winning the state title. I must admit, I did not like Deanie at first. I thought she was rather unlikeable, and I know King's point was to make her seem unlikable, but I really did not like this chick. I thought she was annoying, and couldn't think for herself, and was overall rather childish when it seemed King was trying to make her seem adult-like. For instance, on numerous occasions Sam sees her walking home in stringy clothing in the cold, and whenever he tries to offer her a ride, she either runs away or flips him off. At other times, she smokes and does other things that are hazardous to her health during training season. This all happens several times, and I was like "what even?" I eventually grew to like her though, and by the end of the novel -- after she'd been through several traumas I won't spoil -- I was in love with this character.

Unlike The Mutant, I liked Sam right from the beginning, which was also Tabitha King's intention. He's a no-nonsense kind of guy -- star of his team, but doesn't succumb to the partying and other hijinks pulled by his teammates (aside from a hilarious prank in the prologue). It's nice to see his transition from uptight Mr. Perfect-All-The-Time to being a bit more relaxed and open-minded as he gets to knows Deanie more, and the same goes for her as well. These two are really nice for each other, and by the end of the book you're really rooting for their future.

There are a few peripheral characters, but Deanie and Sam really steal the show -- the focus is completely on them, which is fine. These two are enjoyable enough to read about that one doesn't really mind. Other characters that come into play (albeit, mostly in small parts) as Reuben, Pearl, Deanie's deadbeat mother and abusive stepfather, a few local policemen, fellow teammates, and faculty of the high school. None of them play a really large part in the overall story, but they're sketched out well enough for what they are.

Overall, I don't regret reading One on One. It continues the story of the townspeople in Nodd's Ridge, Maine that was begun by Caretakers, The Trap, and Pearl without being redundant or stale. My complaints are minor, but they really add up -- the over usage of certain words, the lack of Pearl, and the missing emotional core that was so prevalant in other Tabitha King books knock it down a few pegs for me. Also . . . If I'm being honest, I feel like 50 or so pages could have been cut without the reader missing too much -- there are a few too many trivial things that happened that I feel didn't add anything to the overall story arch. I loved a few of the characters, but there simply weren't enough of them to make me feel like I was a part of the small town, which is something I think King was reaching for. At times . . . I don't know. I just felt alienated, much like Deanie Gauther. One on One has all the pieces of a great work, but instead it's only a pretty good one. Like I said earlier, I don't regret reading it, but I hope The Book of Reuben will be better.

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