This week’s book review is going to be bizarre. I’m hoping that my review isn’t, but the subject of it surely is. James Renner is the author of this week’s selection, The Man from Primrose Lane. It is his first novel, and it is unlike anything I have ever read. Renner has made a name for himself as a true-crime writer, and it is a major influence on his first foray into fiction. Trying to summarize this book in a few words is equivalent to sending out a tweet to summarize the Bible. Various genre-bending influences bleed into this novel, and it makes for something quite refreshing in some ways. One thing you can’t say about this book is that it is predictable. I’m going to do my best to give you a micro-description of this book, so stay with me.
In Akron, Ohio, an old man is murdered in a heinous fashion. He walks everywhere, always wears mittens, and is only known as the man from Primrose Lane. His murder has gone unsolved for several years. Enter our protagonist, true crime writer, David Neff, living alone with his young son after his wife’s shocking suicide. David has a considerable amount of success from his first book, but it isn’t helping his deep depression over the loss of his wife. His agent comes to him about writing a book about the man from Primrose Lane.
The first half of the novel shows Neff trying to bring himself to take on the darkness of another murder case. He also looks back at his past and gives insight into the relationship between his wife and the events leading to his first book. Then, the book takes a genre-bending turn. I won’t even try to explain it, but it kicks everything into overdrive. David is faced with his past, present, and future all in a crazy road to the finish.
James Renner is an ambitious guy. A lot of this novel is very fascinating, and he does keep my interest to the end. However, a lot of the plot twists leave me scratching my head more than dropping my jaw. The book is very polarizing. Some readers will love it, and maybe even re-read it to milk every crazy detail out of it. Some readers will get to the major shift in the book, put it down, and never return to it. Others will find themselves in the gray area that I did. I found myself enjoying the weirdness of it but also spending a lot of time trying to understand the book. This prevented me from really getting lost in it. By the end, I just wanted to know what had happened, and my sympathy for David was replaced for just eagerness for a conclusion.
I can’t decide if not knowing what I was getting into was the best thing about the book. Renner has made me take notice of his name, and I will look into further novels. His true crime books must be fantastic because that element of his fiction is well done. I will recommend this book, because if nothing else it will be a unique experience for every reader.