Book Review: Not Me by Michael Lavigne (3/5)

12 Nov

I was skeptical of this one. It was a book club pick but I saw a low number of ratings on Goodreads. We usually pick rather popular novels so I was a bit surprised but tried to go in with an open mind.

Cover image via Goodreads

Not Me by Michael Lavigne

Summary from Goodreads:

When Heshel Rosenheim, apparently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, hands his son, Michael, a box of moldy old journals, an amazing adventure begins–one that takes the reader from the concentration camps of Poland to an improbable love story during the battle for Palestine, from a cancer ward in New Jersey to a hopeless marriage in San Francisco. The journals, which seem to tell the story of Heshel’s life, are so harrowing, so riveting, so passionate, and so perplexing that Michael becomes obsessed with discovering the truth about his father.

As Michael struggles to come to grips with his father’s elusive past, a world of complex and disturbing possibilities opens up to him–a world in which an accomplice to genocide may have turned into a virtuous Jew and a young man cannot recall murdering the person he loves most; a world in which truth is fiction and fiction is truth and one man’s terrible–or triumphant–transformation calls history itself into question. Michael must then solve the biggest riddle of all: Who am I?

I liked the premise of this book and it shared elements with a manuscript I’m working on. I liked the mystery of it and the parallel plots between Heshel and Michael. But I felt this book started to fall apart toward the end. I was skeptical when I was 20 pages out because I suspected I was not going to get a clean ending to what was going on and I was right. I felt Michael had to make some wild assumptions to get to the conclusion he drew about his father and his secret life. It ruined the end of the book for me, though I wonder if the book club discussion will completely reverse my hostility.

Michael felt very real to me. He was distracted and angry which felt like very real emotions given his relationship with his father and where he was in life. He was confused and he did some odd things in his confusion that didn’t make sense to me but seemed to help him cope. I didn’t understand his clues or what he thought he’d find or how his wife and child connected to his father’s past. It was frustrating to read, but it felt real, like what someone would do when dealing with loss.

I didn’t particularly like any character in this book. I wanted to like April, but I didn’t understand what he role in the book was and I wasn’t sure why she was a part of the story. Michael was hard to understand and Heshel wasn’t really himself in either plotline. Perhaps that’s why I had trouble connecting to the book. I kind of wanted it to be over by the end.

Losing a family member is hard. I haven’t lost a parent but I’ve lost my grandfather. He went quickly, but my other grandparents are holding on tight and letting go slowly. I’m far away like Michael was from his father, and it’s hard to stay as close as you were when there’s distance. When I talk to my grandfather now, I know I’m talking to a shell of the man he used to be and it’s frustrating because I can tell he knows that. I could feel some of Michael’s pain but I pray I don’t have to experience it.

Michael Lavigne
Image via the author’s website

I liked the story in the journals best. I was much more invested in that story because I knew how the modern story was going to end. I wanted to see what changed in Heshel’s heart and what inspired it. I didn’t see the ending coming the way it did. Maybe that’s my ignorance of Isreal’s history. Either way, it kept me reading more than Michael.

Spoilers here so skip this paragraph if you want to avoid them. The ending frustrated me beyond reason. April came to nothing, which felt like poor writing. Even worse, I’m still confused about how Michael came to the conclusion he did. There was far too much left up in the air and they were things he could have investigated after his father passed. If there is an Israel Rosenheim, he can be looked up and found. Michael seemed set on his existence but had no motivation to follow-up. It felt rushed and lazy to me and it brought down my impression of the book.

We don’t get to choose our parents. We may not even like our parents. Sometimes their lives are mysteries to us. Is it what we don’t see that could make us like them? Heshel hid a lot from Michael. If he’d been more open, their relationship may have improved. But maybe not, maybe it would have been worse like when Heshel came clean to his wife. Learning something about a parent can change how you see them. Michael has to decide what to remember about his father.

Writer’s Takeaway: A rushed ending can be very tempting for a writer and this is a good example of how it can make a book fall apart. Even if he doesn’t want to believe it, the story in the journals was true and Michael has to face it. The way he decided to compartmentalize and justify his father’s actions bothered me. It felt unfinished and left me with a sour taste in my mouth. It was too convenient and left a lot of things still dangling.

A good story with a disappointing ending. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Not Me by Michael Lavigne | Court Reads
Gina’s Reading: Not Me by Michael Lavigne | Gina Lynette


4 Responses to “Book Review: Not Me by Michael Lavigne (3/5)”

  1. macsbooks311 November 13, 2018 at 7:43 AM #

    I loved reading your post, quite possibly more than I would enjoy reading this book! Great post!


    • Sam November 13, 2018 at 8:13 AM #

      Thank you. I’m glad my honest review was well received and I hope it didn’t spoil too much if you do decide to read the book. Happy reading!


  2. carhicks November 15, 2018 at 6:25 PM #

    Wonderful post Sam. The premise of this book does sound amazing, but I think I would also become frustrated with a rushed ending that doesn’t really tie everything up in a meaningful way. I am going to put this one on my TBR, but it will probably wait for a bit.


    • Sam November 16, 2018 at 6:17 AM #

      I have a book club meeting about it on Monday. I’m curious to see if the group completely changes my mind. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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