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Casebook by Mona Simpson


by Mona Simpson

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In Casebook by Mona Simpson a young amateur sleuth hears more than he bargained for which eventually leads to an expanded investigation and results in some hard earned lessons and maturity. Highly Recommended

When Miles Adler-Hart was 12 he originally began eavesdropping on his parents in a vain attempt to discover any plans they might have for his futures. Instead of talking about him, Miles discovers that their relationship is in trouble and they are getting divorced. After the divorce Miles' mother, Irene, introduces him to her boyfriend, Eli. With the help of his friend, Hector, Miles increases his surveillance on his mom and this questionable new man. Miles and Hector eventually befriend a PI to help in their investigation.

Miles says of Eli: "It was odd story. Like the brother. A lot of Eli’s life seemed weird. Sad, too. I felt that even then. But sad in a way that had no poignancy. More like a disease I hoped wasn’t contagious."

Simpson follows her teenage protagonist Miles from age 12 to post high school, with most of the novel centered around Miles to about age 15. This novel manages to transcend the usual teenage novel full of angst associated with a broken family and the ensuing financial stress it causes by focusing on the mysterious relationship between Irene and Eli as seen through the eyes and ears of a sometimes clueless, sometimes insightful Miles and Hector. There is also a dose of humor in Miles story through some of his schemes and antics, along with the poignancy of an alienated teen during a tragic time in his life.

The novel is set up as an account after the fact, with a present day Miles and Hector as successful comic book authors, with footnotes added later with comments on what is written. This is a coming-of -age novel with a mystery entwined in the story. Simpson does a wonderful job capturing Miles thoughts for his age while allowing Irene's personal struggles to remain somewhat aloof and beyond Miles' ability to comprehend.

In many ways Simpson's account is a somewhat sanitized picture of what divorce means to many women and children. While there is definitely emotional strain, the devastating blow that many experience emotionally and financially isn't pictured quite as insidious here as the reality is for many.

The quality of Simpson's writing and her ability to really allow us to connect with her teenage protagonist help to elevate Casebook up from just-another-coming-of-age-story to a novel with a mystery to unravel while we gain insight into all of the characters.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday for review purposes. ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
It's taken quite a few attempts to read CASEBOOK, it's been one of the most picked up and discarded books in the review pile for quite a while.

The idea behind it was part of the problem – a young boy eavesdropping on his family as his parent's marriage falls apart. It feels therefore like it's going to be very personal. Devastating even. Unfortunately the storytelling relies heavily on the stream-of-conscious voice of young Miles – who frankly – doesn't feel “real”. Or maybe he just doesn't feel right – too voyeuristic. Odd. Creepy. Certainly tediously addicted to the sorts of injokes that some people like to use to keep others on the outside. It's not hard to get the hint you're not part of the cool group.

Which isn't a great way to be made to feel if you're reading something. It made every paragraph, every chapter, every page a drag. Constantly being reminded of not getting the joke, by a kid that was making your skin crawl a bit, and about people that frankly were considerably more dreary than anything else. I was bored. And annoyed. And then more I got so obsessed with how bored and annoyed I was, I found I was reading just to make myself more and more convinced that I was right to be bored and annoyed. About half way through I found I couldn't even remember who most of the characters were, but I was still bored. And annoyed.

So I threw in the towel on CASEBOOK about three-quarters of the way through. Which is most unusual – normally I can find something. But in this case the voice didn't work, the characters weren't interesting, likeable, identifiable or understandable and their path to salvation was definitely not heading in my direction.

http://www.austcrimefiction.org/review/review-casebook-mona-simpson ( )
1 vote austcrimefiction | Nov 11, 2014 |
DNF', it really dragged ( )
  bookmagic | Oct 25, 2014 |
The narrator is Miles Adler-Hart who retrospectively tells the story of the divorce of his parents and his mother’s subsequent relationship with another man. Miles, from the age of nine, is an old-fashioned snoop; because of his eavesdropping he learns his parents are separating. Later, when his mother begins dating Eli Lee, Miles and his best friend Hector set out to investigate Eli because his broken promises and long absences make them suspicious.

The novel is framed as an unfinished manuscript written by Miles with footnotes added by Hector. The problem is that Hector’s annotations serve little purpose. They could have added insight into the accuracy of Miles’ memory, but don’t. In my ebook the footnotes appear at the end of the chapter so by the time I read them, they made no sense. Having to go back to find context for those notations is tiresome.

Miles as a narrator is problematic. At times he sounds like the young adult he is at the end of the book; at other times he seems much younger, the age he was when experiencing the events described. This blend of childish befuddlement and adult perceptiveness is not illuminating. The passage of time is not clearly indicated so the overall impression is one of disjointedness. Sometimes large spans of time are skipped over; at other times, mundane events are detailed. This choppy flow with its erratic jumps in time adds confusion, not enjoyment.

None of the characters is particularly appealing. Irene, Miles’ mother, is especially frustrating. She is a mathematician, intelligent and educated, but totally clueless in many ways. Why she falls for Eli and remains devoted to him for years despite his evasiveness and deceptions is beyond my comprehension. I can understand that a young boy may not understand the romantic relationships of adults, but even as an adult Miles offers little insight.

This is a coming-of-age novel and Miles does learn a little about the complexities of the adult world. In particular, he learns about the strange compromises made in the name of love. Certainly the lasting impact of divorce is emphasized. Perhaps because his parents are divorced, Miles concludes, “Love ruined people’s lives.”

From several descriptions I read, this book sounded really interesting. Unfortunately, it proved not to be so for me. I found I had to force myself to finish it. ( )
1 vote Schatje | Sep 22, 2014 |
I know there are a lot of reviews out there talking about all the problems in this book. I'm just gonna say straight out - none of that stuff bothered me. I know Miles sometimes sounded like a teenager and the next page sounded like an adult. I felt like that was normal. His best friend Hector (maybe gay? maybe Miles is gay too? who knows?) had the same kind of thing happening, but I felt they were both characters I could identify with, and I could have when I was in high school, too.

I liked the Harriet The Spy vibe going on when Miles and Hector were listening in on phone conversations, trying to find out if The Mims (Miles' mom) was ever going to be happy again after the divorce. I liked the private investigator they hired to look into Eli, the new guy. I liked the way this was mostly a story about growing up and worrying about parents and being a friend. Parents are real people, too, and it's a really hard time finding that out and still being a kid. ( )
  E.J | Aug 18, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385351410, Hardcover)

From the acclaimed and award-winning author: a beguiling new novel about an eavesdropping boy working to discover the obscure mysteries of his unraveling family. He uncovers instead what he least wants to know: the workings of his parents' private lives. And even then he can't stop snooping.

Miles Adler-Rich, helped by his friend Hector, spies and listens in on his separating parents. Both boys are in thrall to Miles's unsuspecting mother, Irene, who is "pretty for a mathematician." They rifle through her dresser drawers and strip-mine her computer diary, finding that all leads pull them straight into her bedroom, and into questions about a stranger from Washington, D.C., who weaves in and out of their lives. Their amateur detective work starts innocently but soon takes them to the far reaches of adult privacy as they acquire knowledge that will affect the family's well-being, prosperity, and sanity. Once burdened with this powerful information, the boys struggle to deal with the existence of evil, and proceed to concoct hilarious modes of revenge on their villains and eventually, haltingly, learn to offer animal comfort to those harmed and to create an imaginative path to their own salvation.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:30 -0400)

"A novel about an eavesdropping boy working to discover the obscure mysteries of his unraveling family. He uncovers instead what he least wants to know: the workings of his parents' private lives. And even then he can't stop snooping"--

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