This is a novel that I want to like and in some ways I think is really good. I am however at odds with some of the things that the author does and there are some aspects of the book that I dislike.
The novel blends the history of the lower Hudson Valley with the events of two families separated by 300 years of history. Part of the book follows the fortunes of early Dutch settlers of the area below the Bear Mountain Bridge on the east side of the Hudson. This can only be Peekskill. My friend Phil Chadeayne’s family came from this area, and some of the things that I know about his family history, like the road building gangs, are recounted in the book. My own family lived on the west side of the Hudson in Tappan and Nyack. My ancestors fill the old cemetery next to my house where the earliest graves are from the early 1600s.
As I read the historical parts of the book, I found myself more interested in the life of my own early American family than in the events in the lives of Boyle’s mostly fictional characters. I was impressed at how the Blauvelts and Polhemuses on my side of the river never had the problems that the Van Brunts and Van Warts did on the other side.
The other half of the novel is about the descendants of these Dutch characters as they play out their destinies in the twentieth century. Although the characters were painted well by the author they seem to experience way too much angst for my taste. Life, in my experience, seems much more boring in reality than in fiction.
The aspect of the novel that I particularly dislike is that it tends to be too literary with cute coincidences and symbolic events. I dislike seeing the strings holding up the spaceships in Science Fiction Movies, and I dislike seeing the hand of the author as he writes a story.
I give as an example to the heavy hand of the author that both the Dutch protagonist and his 20th century descendant lose a foot due to an accident. In the case of the 20th century protagonist, the foot is lost in a motorcycle accident when he hits an historical marker that was placed on the site of an event that shapes the book. I’m sorry, but I felt like putting my finger down my throat when I read that.
The book seems to be constructed of these types of events, and the author many times appears more clever than interesting in his attempts to bring all of these coincidental details together.
I must say that Boyle writes well, but uses an occasional word that I have to look up. I have a decent vocabulary, but there are lots of words that are not in common every day usage and they should be avoided in a novel. It may impress some people, but the key is to get on with the story without stopping the flow on an odd, but very literate word.
I make no apologies for preferring stories written by engineers, and that read like user manuals. I enjoyed Word’s End, as much for its historical background as for the odd plot. The ending had a good punch to it and I think you might try reading it, if you like this sort of thing.