The Rent Collector by Camron Wright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I know most of my friends will disagree with my rating, but I have to give my honest review. If you have a happy experience reading this book, I am truly glad for you. I thought the book had a lot of great things going for it, but in the end, it didn't win me over.
I think the best parts of the book were the pictures and the factual details of life in a garbage dump. I was simultaneously horrified and entranced by these poor characters' plight. But the further I got into the story, the less interesting and believable it was, sadly. (I do want to look into the documentary the author mentions, though.)
You'd think that I of all people would resonate with the theme of literature having the power to transform lives, but it just felt like a false setup to me. The characters went from having lots of potential to seeming really two-dimensional, especially the Rent Collector herself, who turned from a fascinating, mysterious, complex woman into someone kind of pitiful and maudlin.
My overall takeaway is that there are some really interesting themes in the book, but I just didn't feel like Camron Wright had the chops to pull it off. I never really believed him in Sang Ly's voice. Maybe it would have worked better for me if he had written in third person instead of trying to get into her head.
I was also kind of fascinated and yet put off by Wright's taking real people and picking them up out of their lives and dropping them into a totally fictional scenario. How would I feel if someone did that to my life? It may be a cool literary technique, but it is also kind of insulting to the subject. I wonder what the reaction of the people "represented" in this story would be when they hear about themselves....
It reminds me of the end of the movie "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," when Pee Wee is gathered with friends to watch the movie of his life--as portrayed by Chuck Norris and Morgan Fairchild. And his bike has somehow become an awesome motorcycle! Maybe the moral is that we all could use a fiction writer to spice up our otherwise boring and unimportant lives!
On a serious note, if you are interested in Cambodian history, you might like to try To Destroy You Is No Loss: The Odyssey of a Cambodian Family, which was a life-changing book for me when I read it years ago.
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