I almost stopped reading The Senator’s Children before author Nick Montemarano hit his stride. I’m glad that I didn’t stop. In fairness, I would have stopped because of my emotions, not his skill at writing.
In short, the Christie family begins the novel looking like a typical nuclear family. David is a lawyer running for Senator. Danielle is a college professor. They’ve got two kids. Son Nick is the perfect teenage son. Daughter Betsy is just ten, and precocious as all get out.
That lasts for less than a chapter, as tragedy strikes early in the Christies’ story. Their tragedy stuck quite close to home for me, which is why I almost stopped. Then I realized that Montemarano’s characters weren’t especially emotional. In fact, I thought their reactions were oddly flat and icily distanced from the painful reality of loss.
While this meant I could continue, it didn’t make me feel very connected to the characters. Considering the parallels in my own life, I would expect to say “yes, that’s exactly how this feels” at least once. But I didn’t. So, strike one against the book.
Once past the initial tragedy, we see each of the characters struggle to find mooring. Montemarano models the Christies after the family of former Senator and Presidential candidate John Edwards. Together they face illness, scandal, and the unexpected birth of Betsy’s half-sister Avery. It’s a tumultuous life, but disappointingly written with barely any emotion.
None of the characters are especially likable, except Avery. Danielle and David are ridiculously self-centered and shallow. Nick has become an idealized version of himself. Betsy is naive and weak, even though she keeps pushing through all the shit life throws at her. Avery is young but thinks like an old soul—or like an author.
I think one reason the story never touched me deeply is because Montemarano’s structure defies logical chronology. He jumps around in time, while also switching points of view. Just when I was connected to Betsy’s voice and life, he’d switch to Avery’s or David’s story.
Montemarano tells the story with third person narratives, primarily from Betsy and Avery. They didn’t feel like complex characters, and perhaps we can accept that because of their youth. But if you’ve parented teenagers, you know they’re often unfathomable.
For example, here’s Avery: “There were things she needed to say; they had been a long time coming. The angry part of her wanted to say: “Why have you never sought me out? What did I ever do to you?” The sad part wanted to say: “I’m sorry. This day must be hard for you.””
I wanted more descriptive language, rather than “angry” or “sad.” Montemarano isn’t an eloquent writer, in fact passages like this border on pedantic for me.
My in-person book group chose this book and our discussion is next week. One thing we wanted was to read a character-driven novel, and The Senator’s Children fits that bill. Unfortunately, the characters fell flat and unrealistic to me. The writing was just average. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this book. Here’s hoping next month’s book is a better one!