Anita Shreve’s A Change in Altitude

by Jess

My mom gave me this book, which is set in Kenya, and she thought maybe I could relate to some of the story since I’ve been there.  I could, a little.  I remember the crowded matatus, the shared taxi minibuses that roam the roads (and sometimes career off the roads) at breakneck speeds.  Like the protagonist, I too was advised not to give out money to beggars because of the risk of getting mobbed by street kids.  I remember the abject poverty of the slums, a sea of corrugated tin and scraps rising from the red dust.

But mostly, Shreve’s novel was a snoozer.  She strikes me as a writer who is not very talented, although extremely sincere.  Most of the writing was very vague, very rudimentary, almost — and if I hadn’t already been to Africa, Shreve certainly would not have taken me there.  She casually mentions that her characters are sweating; she doesn’t tell you that you feel like you’re in hell, like you’re sweating on the inside of your skin.  And that’s in the shade.

Perhaps untalented is a bit harsh; lazy may be a more apt descriptor.  She used the word soporific four times, and the word lassitude twice.  Yes, I counted.  Those aren’t words you can throw around and expect a reader not to notice.  Thesaurus, much?