So this is a hard one for me to review. On the one hand, this is an amazing book. Like so good that I couldn't put it down. I had it on my phone and I was picking it up to read a few pages between classes, on my breaks, in the car (when someone else was driving). I was wholly invested in the characters and the mystery and their recovery that I needed to know what was coming next. On the other hand, the author made a choice that completely derailed my momentum and I found myself obsessively doing research to figure out if this choice was based on fact or if it was just some artistic license to push the story forward. This is a problem I have that other readers may not. I'm a researcher at heart. I tried to be a writer once, but what I discovered was that what I really loved was the research, discovering something new, following a trail to see where it led. TO me that's fun. It's probably why I have degrees in History, Library Science and Cultural Heritage Preservation - all three are super research heavy. When I attempted to be a writer I had binders of cool tidbits or research, but no real desire to put it into a story. When I read (or watch TV and movies) sometimes a fact will jump out to me as not quite right and I'm off. I'll fall into the black hole of research for hours and if it bears fruit, if the author's claims check out I'm all in. Nothing is cooler then learning something new from a book, especially if that thing seems far fetched. However, if I can't fact check it. If there is no discernible facts to back up the claim, then I'm out. I'll finish the book, I might even enjoy the book (as I did here), but there will definitely be a little cloud above it that won't go away. When I talk about the book, there will always be an aside, or an *, "This was a great book, but..." So that's where I am with this book... It's great, really great, but... and in order to talk about that, be warned, there will be spoilers.
So first, the good. Connis does a superb job dealing with addiction and trauma. The main characters in this book are all addicted to something and Connis makes it clear that while addicts have similarities, each is different, with different triggers and ways that they cope. When we first meet Adam we know he probably has an addiction to porn and has done something so egregious that he has been suspended for months, but we don't know yet what that incident was. As the book progresses, we see Adam come to grips with his addiction and his actions and Connis slowly reveals what Adam did to get expelled. As Adam accepts his actions and consequences and begins to share them with the people around him, we learn about them too. The players around Adam are also really well fleshed out, when he is expelled a teacher Mr. Cratcher advocates for him and Adam is placed into a few programs that will help him rehabilitate. Through the groups, one being The Knights of Vice, Adam meets several other addicts, including Dez who is addicted to addiction, who needs that new was to get an adrenaline rush. One of the things that felt huge to me was this idea that someone doesn't have a specific vice, they are just addicted to feeling something, anything and can bounce from addiction to addiction.
When Dez admits that to Adam, it felt like a revelation. Personally, I'm not addicted to any drugs, in fact I've never tried any drugs, or smoked even a cigarette, why? Because I have a hugely addictive personality. It comes out in my hobbies. I will latch onto something that is exciting and new and ride it out until I no longer get that rush from doing it, then I move on to the next thing. I'll circle back through after enough time, when that thing (be it white water rafting, rodeo, back country hiking, tattoos, whatever) can give me an adrenaline rush again. I"m not addicted to thing per say, I'm addicted to the way the thing makes me feel- which is where Dez is coming from. In short, I was instantly invested in Dez.
The teacher, Mr. Cratcher, was also a great character. As a teacher in a city school I can say that you want to save them all. You want to reach them all, but it doesn't always work that way. Cratcher uses his music to reach Adam. He gives Adam the task of helping him complete an album that has been his life's work. He also uses was of my personal favorite songs to reach the students in his charge, Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. The lyrics of the song have a profound effect on several of them and, for me, it was really interesting to see how he used the words to connect to their addictions and choices. Through Adam's interactions with Cratcher, the Album and the Knights of Vice we see everyone involved begin to break down walls, come to grips with who they are and start to have hope for a future that doesn't include being beholden to their addictions. I can't say enough about this story and how well it's written.
Which brings me to the part where it went off the rails. Let me again reiterate that this is definitely something that doesn't bother every reader, sometimes I wish it didn't bother me. It has destroyed books (and some authors) for me that other people adore, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak is probably the biggest casualty. At any rate- this issue was not enough to ruin the entire book for me, but it definitely stopped my obsessive reading of the book and put my mind elsewhere. It has to do with Cratcher and his history. Cratcher is not just a teacher, he's a brilliant musician and lyricist. In fact he could have been extremely famous, but tragedy struck and he made another choice. When Cratcher falls ill, Dez does some digging and comes up with some interesting facts about Cratcher's past.
Here is where I started to get skeptical...
- Cratcher apparently worked at Abbey Road Studios, the branch in the United States.
- While there he became friends with (and did a lot of drugs with) a co-worker who happened to be black.
- This guy was lynched in the studio, Cratcher was a prime suspect, but the sister (Gabby) of the guy vouched for Cratcher, Cratcher was released, Gabby and Cratcher moved across the country, he became a teacher, they lived a pretty normal life.
- Cratcher was a great lyricist who worked with some of the best artists of the time (sometimes under a pseudonym).
- Cratcher had letters and signed memorabilia from major artists of the time in his garage (including a kazoo I believe from Bob Dylan)
- Cratcher apparently wrote at least one line of Hallelujah, as evidenced by a thank you letter from Cohen.
And that's where the book lost me... literally. Was there an Abbey Road in the USA? (As far as I can tell... no) Did Cohen have a co-writer on Hallelujah? Nope. I scoured the internet, read articles about Cohen, read articles about the song... in fact... I actually just lost a solid 10 minutes of writing this post to go double check my research. I can't find anything that indicates that Cohen may have possibly had a co-writer on this song. That the line referenced in the book "A blaze of light in every word" came from anyone but Cohen (for an awesome deep dive into Hallelujah, check out this article from Rolling Stone) So why imply that it did? I can't even tell you how much this, part of the story line bothered me. It was a distraction to what is otherwise a really solid story. I get placing Cratcher into history, by making it clear that he was a brilliant writer and musician and that had things gone another way he would be someone that we talk about as one of the greats alongside Cohen and Dylan. I get placing him inside a studio that is familiar to the reader (although as far as I can tell, that particular studio didn't exist in the US), but why have him write part of a song that we all know? Having the song be important to him is good, even having him be a co-worker or friend to Cohen is fine, but to attribute the lyrics to him was frustrating to me because there was no basis in fact that I can find there. Like I said, it pulled me out of the book, made me skeptical of the whole thing, and distracted me from what is otherwise a phenomenal book.
So... where does this leave The Temptation of Adam? It's a phenomenal book. You should all go read it. Likely you won't be nearly as distracted as I was by some of the plot points. However, if you are, and you love to dig into research too, tell me what you find. I"m looked a lot of places, but there's always somewhere else to look!
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