May 2004

Ted Westervelt

fiction

Children of God Go Bowling by Shannon Olson

Children of God Go Bowling falls squarely within the genre commonly known as "chick-lit": tales of women in their twenties and thirties trying to find their way in life. This particular story concerns a woman in her thirties, Shannon Olson, living in St. Paul, Minnesota not far from where she grew up and where her parents still live. It is the second outing for both character and author, the first having been in Welcome to My Planet. In the current book Shannon is dealing with the emotional turmoil caused by remaining single and watching her friends marry and raise children. Much of the story takes place in therapy of one sort or the other, underlining the storyís essential thrust as a tale of personal development. Along the way she must also deal with the problems of those around her, but their real weight in this book comes from their influence on her state of mind.

The natural result of focusing the book so much on the internal drama of one character is that it rises and falls on the ability of that character to resonate with the reader. External action and the interaction between Shannon and the other characters can provide the cues and impetuses she needs to shape and adapt the course of her internal development, but beyond that they of themselves are not meant to carry the story. The other characters exist to serve as foils to Shannon in her plight. There are a few nods towards the problems which they might be facing, but even those are merely used to further illustrate the protagonistís situation. This does not necessarily mean that the book cannot be a success; but it does place great pressure directly on the main character to ensure that success. Shannon must reach that state of development as a fictional character at which she can connect with the reader at large and in depth. Unfortunately, she fails.

The course of this failure is hinted at by the fact that the author and protagonist of the story share the same name and live in the same city. The publisherís blurb calls it "semi-autobiographical." Given that most of us live our lives dealing with the demands of daily life first and foremost and rarely digging more deeply into the broader issues, there is a danger in writing fiction based so heavily upon oneself; that it will fail to do more than skim the surface. Ms. Olson, the author, seems to have fallen into this trap. She creates Shannon, the character, simply by writing down all the thoughts and feelings which a single woman in her mid-thirties might have, feelings she and others like her might have had. But she never attempts to take these feelings any further than their expression of her immediate discontent with life, even though much of the book takes place in therapy sessions. Shannon only attains any sort of reality in our minds simply because these are complaints which we have had or have heard from others. Without that, she has no more heft to her than the other characters of the book.

That being the case, the appeal which this book will have will be limited not only to those who have known someone like Shannon but to those who can also readily sympathize with her fears. Unless the reader has complained about the same things she has, Shannon is hardly going to rouse his or her interest. As dramatic problems go, hers are rather petty though they are treated as if they were not. She is neither poor nor uneducated and it is hardly unimaginable that she could have a rich and full life without a partner. There is one tragic event in the book, but that is used merely to help move her along in dealing with her unhappiness at being single. Even for those readers who might have felt on occasion as Shannon does, her shallowness as a character limits what she can offer them. Her real trouble appears to be that she has the freedom which we all prize so greatly these days, but like many of us she does not know exactly what to do with it. Focusing on this would have made for a more interesting story, one with which a wider audience might have felt an affinity and interest. As it is, Children of God Go Bowling might provide some enjoyment if one is mainly concerned with their own marital status. But to most people it has nothing to say.

Children of God Go Bowling by Shannon Olson
Penguin
ISBN: 0670032816
292 Pages