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Spare Change shows the way paths and lives become crossed and connected in interesting and unexpected manners. Olivia is a woman who has never wanted a traditional family. When she meets Charlie, at the age of fifty-eight, she is finally hooked.  What Olivia doesn’t know is that Charlie will not be around long, and a child she never wanted is about to enter her life. As Charlie and Olivia marry, his son, Benjamin is busy destroying his life. Benjamin murders his wife, Susanna, and leaves their young son Ethan Allen, to fend for himself.  The only thing for the boy to do is find his grandpa; but that can’t happen. Charlie has died. The idea of Olivia and Ethan Allen’s lives coming together through Charlie has potential to be touching and intriguing. But, there are questions that arise about the probability of essential events in the plot. The stories of Olivia, Charlie, and Charlie’s family are communicated through a complex multiple perspective approach, which is difficult for a writer to undertake. The style of writing makes it difficult to relate to the people described so thoroughly in the novel.

In creating her characters, Crosby presumably intends to develop unique and eccentric individuals. It is possible that these roles are typical of easy reading, or adult contemporary novels. However, it is difficult as a reader to believe the people in the book or their actions are real. Charlie’s son, Benjamin, appears to be a decent person when he is introduced.  Although he doesn’t want his wife Susanna to move to New York City and pursue her dreams, when their child is born, it is Benjamin who cares for him.  Susanna is depicted as a horrible mother;  she is unwilling to hold her baby and calls him it. The next thing the reader knows, Susanna names the boy Ethan Allen after the furniture store. It is an odd addition to an already strangely depicted sequence of events. Eight years later, an unexpected and improbable change occurs in the dynamics of the relationship of Benjamin and Susanna. The author shows that tension has always existed between the two, but from what the reader can tell, Benjamin has never acted violently toward his wife. Those familiar with abuse know that there is usually a cyclical pattern involved. In typical cases, violence escalates over time. In the case of Benjamin, it is not until late in the relationship that he physically harms his wife. The next time he does it, he brutally murders her. If he is so dangerous, why doesn’t he display signs of this earlier?

Part of the reason the characters seem inauthentic has to do with the details given about them.  First Henry James, and then James Joyce, introduced the world to the idea that the best writers show and don’t tell.  Good readers can decipher meaning through descriptive details.  Not every single aspect of a character’s personality or thoughts needs to be stated.  For instance, Crosby writes, “Olivia was as taken with Charlie as he was with her (16).”  She follows this line with the several details to describe Olivia’s emotions. The last line of the paragraph includes another sentence that communicates what is obvious from Olivia’s actions: “Olivia simply continued to float around looking happy as a parade on the Fourth of July(26).”  Since there is so much repetition, the prose doesn’t flow.

Other reasons the story isn’t completely cohesive can be attributed to structure and perspective.  The author chooses to insert exerts of differing characters’ thought processes. This divides the novel into two portions: the exerts and the rest of the story. The problem is that the character reflections are meant to add something special to the overall structure. Instead, the author provides ideas that have already been covered or could be discussed without italics to indicate importance.  It becomes harder to become absorbed in the story because the same ideas and themes are revisited in new chapters.

For those who enjoy not having to over-analyze a text, this novel is a good choice. From me organization and believability are essential. Still, even the most experienced and renowned authors write books that certain people have difficulty relating to. Others who choose this story may love the strangely portrayed and sometimes unpredictable actions and thoughts of its characters. Personally, it was hard for me to empathize with the characters or become invested in the plot.

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

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