I do my best to never judge a book by its cover. Though it gets a little difficult to not judge a book by its title. (Until I read it, I thought The DaVinci Code was all about getting extra lives in the video game, Contra) The title of Ryan O'Reilly's "To Nourish and Consume" threw me off. It could hold a vastly different meaning to different people. It could very well be the name of Rachel Ray's next book or a warning of what cannibals may do to you. Let's not kid ourselves, Rachel Ray may be one of the cannibals.
The title is actually taken from one of Shakespeare's sonnets and it implies that what nourishes us in youth, may actually consume (our thoughts, lives, etc) us later in life. This is the central theme of the novel. I ate a lot of gummi worms when I was younger and am terrified of their inevitable revenge.
The main character, Brian, is nearly 30 and moving back to his childhood home near Lake Michigan. He has been traveling the world for the past ten years trying to escape everything that he went through in his hometown previously. While growing up in a summer resort town, he befriended Dabney(you just know he's a d-bag with a name like that) and Jacqueline. They were the kids from the rich side of the lake who spent their summer vacations at Lake Michigan. As the years passed and the kids were passing the high school years, life starting getting very complicated. Brian started falling in love with Jacqueline and wanted to start planning for their engagement. Jacqueline was torn between nice guy Brian and rich guy Dabney. Dabney, the ill-tempered life of the party, knew he had both Jacqueline and Brian wrapped around his finger. Meanwhile Brian had some feelings for Dabney as well. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a love triangle.
Brian is a guy with a whole bunch of issues. He hasn't been able to get over how everything ended and has had commitment issues with every relationship he's been a part of since Jacqueline. He spends two-thirds of the book settling in and getting reacquainted with his family and friends but constantly whines internally about his old friends and hoping he doesn't run into his rich old pals. Brian starts a new relationship with a local girl and it is very promising for him, but like any female/fictional male character, he can't get rid of his baggage even when what he has in front of him is the better alternative.
We have all gone through situations of heartbreak and this novel seems like O'Reilly's way of seeking closure with an experience of his own. As many authors do, O'Reilly seems to put himself into the story. It feels very autobiographical. Both the main character and the author (Brian/Ryan) are new authors who have previously written travel books, both have traveled abroad, and have chosen to not follow their family's business. By doing this, O'Reilly is able to personalize Brian and make him feel sincere.
It may have been O'Reilly's intent but I never cared for Dabney and Jacqueline. I felt the story actually hit a brick wall when they entered. The relationship between Brian and his new girlfriend Alissa kept me interested and O'Reilly's dialogue is seamless and I felt good chemistry between them. The small fraction of the story describing Brian's intimate feelings to Dabney feels completely unnecessary and goes nowhere. Also, beyond the description of his depression about Jacqueline and a few flashbacks, there doesn't seem to be any huge reason that ruined Brian beyond repair. I could have really done with less predictability and would have liked the pleasant surprise of a twist or two thrown in.
The first third of Nourish and Consume left me scratching my head wondering what kind of guy has so many issues. He is a character that wouldn't seem out of place in a Jodi Piccoult book. The middle of the novel was a good read as he started his new relationship. It was never a task for me to pick up the book and continue on. If the book kept up that pace and had a good closing I would have given it high marks. Though, the final third lost me entirely. The payoff I was hoping for never happened. Even when there was a pivotal moment, it was only described second-hand by the characters later. It seemed an odd choice that O'Reilly didn't bring the reader in for the big turning point.
O'Reilly excels in his description of the environment. He has an affinity for making the reader feel like they are actually there, whether it's late spring at a tavern, or the fourth of July on the lakefront. He may not be my favorite fiction writer but I wouldn't mind seeing how his travel book "Snapshot" is.
So after feeling depressed about relationships that never worked out and feeling hope that you can go back home again, I was lost by the disappointing final third. As with Brian, I just didn't feel that I got closure. To Nourish and Consume by Ryan O'Reilly gets 2 stars.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 Kenny D