I had very mixed feelings about The Girl in the Photo, by Wally Wood. In the end I think four stars is about right – for all my many misgivings I did want to find out how things ended, and the changes of scene and character development moved things along at a reasonable pace.
I had originally expected there to be a greater proportion of the story set in the past, but in fact the vast majority is contemporary, with just a few chapters relating events during the Korean War. Some people might well enjoy this mix, but I realised yet again that books set in today’s world don’t really grip me. There were quite a lot of casual references to American culture which for me were obscure and unexplained.
The story itself seems very derivative – without giving too much away, the plot seems far too much like The Bridges of Madison County, with a heavy dollop of Madame Butterfly. In part my quick reading through to the end was to see if the ending matched either of those sources. But repeatedly through the book I felt that there was too much similarity to other material.
The plot dwells a great deal on sibling dynamics, as well as wider family interactions revolving around the central brother-sister pair. Most of these carry conviction, and the central characters have a good blend of likeable and dislikable traits. Unexpected windows are sometimes opened into one or other person’s behaviour and attitudes. The story perspective switches quite often between several voices. That works quite well. I was not wholly persuaded, though, by the Japanese portion towards the end. It was clear that Wally had considered a range of possible options, but the final choice seemed to me to be rather rushed, skating rapidly over what was potentially the most complex and difficult encounter.
Technically as a kindle book The Girl in the Photo was very disappointing. It had obviously been prepared as a print edition and then just copied over. A fair number of words were force-hyphenated in the middle of words where this was not necessary, presumably because line breaks happened there in print. There are chapters but there is no kindle TOC, and the standard navigation controls do not work. Given how easy it is to prepare kindle books these days, the omission is striking, and makes it almost impossible to flick back to (say) one of the chapters set in the Korean War to check something out.
So all in all four stars so far as I was concerned. Readers of contemporary fiction set in the US, with brief forays into Japan, will probably like this. The historical elements are only a small part of the whole, and are more in the way of scene setting rather than actively developed.