When good plots go bad: A review of Trenton Makes

The first thing I want to note in this review is that Trenton Makes is not for everyone. It certainly wasn’t for me. Due to it’s writing style, fans of literary fiction might enjoy the prose of this novel, but the content is what really put me off.

Trenton Makes by Tadzio Koelb is a debut novel about a woman carving out her piece of the American Dream by assuming the identity of a man. The book is split into two parts; part one being set in the 1940s and part two taking place in 1971.

In the 1940s a woman kills her husband in a domestic fight and takes over his identity. As Abe Kuntsler, he successfully secures employment at a wire factory and woos an alcoholic dancer named Inez. He begins to make a home with Inez, but realizes his transformation is incomplete until he can secure himself a son.

In 1971, Abe’s life is deteriorating. The life he has created is falling apart due to the stress and pressure of his lies. Abe becomes desperate to hold onto what he built and begins searching for solutions in his dying city of Trenton.

Content warnings for Trenton Makes:

Rape, violence against women, homophobia, murder, domestic abuse, racist/offensive language, sexual abuse, alcoholism

 
Unfortunately, I could not finish this book. I finished part one and had to put it down. My biggest struggle was the prose. It was very vague and flowery which made it difficult for me to read without paying super close attention. I found myself having to reread paragraphs constantly to derive some meaning, but ultimately coming away with very little. While I could appreciate that the prose was beautiful, it was very difficult to understand. There are some flashback scenes to Abe’s life before he assumes his late husband’s identity where the prose is even more of a stream of consciousness and harder to understand. It should come as no surprise that one of Koelb’s influences is William Falkner.

Despite the prose, I was still really looking forward to seeing this plot play out, but there are scenes in this novel that really ruined it for me.

Uncomfortable content ahead:

Part one of this novel ends with Abe getting his wife (Inez) and a stranger blackout drunk and raping both of them. He then proceeds to help the stranger rape his wife.
I felt it was unnecessary to the plot and it made me very uncomfortable.

 
These scenes, particularly the one above, made me question what the point of this novel was and why Koelb included this information. After this scene I knew I didn’t want to see where the novel was headed and that’s when I decided to put it on my DNF shelf.

Overall, I give this book one and a half out of five stars. While I feel the uniqueness of the plot deserves some praise, this book wasn’t for me. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend it; however, if you’ve read this review and still want to give it a try Trenton Makes comes out on March 20th of this year!

However, I want to give a huge thank you to Doubleday books for sending me a copy of Trenton Makes in exchange for an honest review. 

2 thoughts on “When good plots go bad: A review of Trenton Makes

    • I think that was my biggest problem! It felt like reading this novel was a chore and I don’t want to feel like that when I’m trying to relax with a book.

      Liked by 1 person

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