Monday, September 5, 2022

Review: The Cherry Robbers by Sarai Walker

by Sarai Walker
Release Date: May 17, 2022
2022 Harper
Kindle Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-0358251873
Audiobook: B09G56HL5B
Genre: Fiction / Literary / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher
2 / 5 Stars
New Mexico, 2017: Sylvia Wren is one of the most important American artists of the past century. Known as a recluse, she avoids all public appearances. There’s a reason: she’s living under an assumed identity, having outrun a tragic past. 

Connecticut, 1950: Iris Chapel is the second youngest of six sisters, all heiresses to a firearms fortune. They’ve grown up cloistered in a palatial Victorian house, mostly neglected by their distant father and troubled mother, who believes that their house is haunted by the victims of Chapel weapons. The girls long to escape, and for most of them, the only way out is marriage. But not long after the first Chapel sister walks down the aisle, she dies of mysterious causes, a tragedy that repeats with the second, leaving the rest to navigate the wreckage, to heart-wrenching consequences. 
My Thoughts
The Cherry Robbers definitely had an interesting premise, and touted as a Gothic mystery, it had certainly piqued my interest. It didn't take long to realize this wasn't Gothic in the slightest and execution-wise, was a bit of a mess. Personally, I don't mind a slow burn novel as long as the suspense is there, but when the so-called foreshadowing takes away from the suspense, you've lost me.  This novel tries hard to be mysterious, but for me, it simply didn't work.
The novel focuses on the complicated relationship between the six sisters, something I did like. Having grown up with a couple of sisters myself, I could relate to their issues, dreams, and, desires, especially living in such a cloistered household with a father who has such rigid rules of decorum and a mother who is dealing with mental health issues.  I could understand their need for escape, and I did feel empathy for them as they realized their only way to escape would be through marriage rather than through education and learning.  I loved how they were named after flowers, a double-entendre, considering flowers wilt and die if not nurtured and watered, which seems to be very symbolic in this situation.  I'm not going to bore you with symbolism here, but I did enjoy the use of language conventions the author used to describe the sisters.  However, I don't think the author went far enough as I still felt they were one-dimensional, to a point, and would have loved to learn more about what they really felt. When the girls started dying, I definitely wasn't as horrified as I should have been because of this lack of deeper empathy. I also felt the LGBTQ representation was pretty stereotypical, although I did like the discussions around feminism, freedom, women's rights, gender discrimination, patriarchy, etc... that existed in the 1950s as well as mental health issues,  It's too bad the author felt the need to include this whole 'ghost' thing to make the book sound more Gothic which is a huge misrepresentation of what is actually going on.  
I didn't really find the book spooky at all, but then I am a voracious horror book reader so my POV might be a little skewed in this regard.   I did find some of the scenes interesting, but I wasn't convinced by any of them as they just didn't make sense within the book at all.  So, what we've got here are scenes of magical realism thrown into this book where you have to just kind of suspend your belief and accept that these women just died. Nope, not going to happen.  Yes, there are deeper themes within the deaths, like neglect and despair plus the shunting of women into background roles, but you are supposed to accept the illnesses represent these things and come through the women in this way? I get that marriage was the evil in this story as well as the lack of opportunities for women, but I'm not sure I like the way the message was delivered.  Unfortunately, the author bogs down the reader with a lot of filler, and while I normally wouldn't mind it if it built up the suspense, the foreshadowing doesn't help built it up because the reader is already given all the pertinent details which takes away from the suspense and thrill.  

The Cherry Robbers is one of those books that was way too slow for me, whereby all the information and foreshadowing are given to the reader which destroys the suspense and the chill of a novel such as this.  When everything is spelled out for you, including the foreboding elements, it draws you out of the story and makes it challenging to return as you are not invested in the characters nor the action. Unfortunately, there was nothing ghostly or Gothic about this book.  I am glad to see there were a lot of people who enjoyed this book, but I was not one of them.