Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Airport reading: HOMEBODY by Orson Scott Card

This is one of two books I picked up in the dealer’s room at the WFC. I got it because it was offered for a sale price and because I’d never heard of it and thought it was the sort of story Orson Scott Card would tell very well: a contemporary ghost story with a small scale, even intimate, setting. Then I couldn’t get it into my carry-on bag or handbag and wound up carrying it in my hand, so naturally I read it on the way back despite all the titles stacking up on my Kindle because, I mean, there it was.

Okay, on the one hand, HOMEBODY was indeed a really good story and I definitely enjoyed reading it. I was right that it was a story that Card would handle well. He’s a very skilled writer and can definitely put sentences and paragraphs together beautifully. The protagonist, Don Lark, is beautifully drawn – naturally, because this is another thing that Card does very well. Don used to build homes for people, but then tragedy struck – he lost his ex-wife, which he could have dealt with, but he also lost his little daughter and that just about destroyed him. Now he buys old houses that need work, fixes them up, sells them, and moves on. He has no interest in settling down or creating a new family.

Then he buys this particular old house . . .

As I said, this is a ghost story. It’s got some unexpected details, in fact it has a lot of unexpected details. It’s not horror, by the way, it’s not that kind of ghost story. It’s kind of a romance, but there’s more going on than just that.

But.

This is a book I enjoyed all the way through, I really did. But for the second half, I was like, “What was Card thinking? What was his editor thinking? Doesn’t he have beta readers who can read analytically?” Because structurally, this story just does not hang together, and Card’s such a pro, it’s hard to see how he could let that happen.

The problem is with a semi-important secondary character and with everything connected with that character. Cindy is the real estate agent who sells Don the house. At the beginning and all through the first, oh, third or even half of the book, we get scenes from Cindy’s pov. She’s a fun character to start with, and then we find out some intense stuff about her background, and Don almost begins a romance with her but then they become friends instead, and he defends her against a smarmy coworker at some cost to himself – which is a bit odd right there, as the Cindy we first meet seems well able to defend herself, but okay.

Then Cindy vanishes from the story. Vanishes completely. We never see her again; as far as I recall Don never even thinks of her again. The smarmy coworker? Vanishes. The legal issue that seems like it might become an important plot point? Nope, it comes up briefly, is resolved even more briefly, and disappears for good.

This is so strange. It’s like Card meant to write another whole plotline, then changed his mind and took out the back half of Cindy’s plotline, but failed to notice that the whole front end of it was still there. There is nothing *wrong* with the Cindy plot elements, she’s an engaging and interesting character, but with a Cindy-heavy front half and a Cindy-free back half, the story as a whole is left seriously unbalanced. I would never have expected Orson Scott Card, who has handled lots of far more complicated plots, to write such an unbalanced story and, apparently, not notice.

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