The first thing that struck me about Watching Glass Shatter by James J. Cudney was the writing style. In one word, it is elegant. Cudney tells a story with a style that I used to read (and like) several decades ago. The style is not populated with a lot of action words that speed to an objective. There is nuance and layers as Cudney tells several stories at the same time about a family that ultimately might define dysfunctional. This is a style I rarely find today.
This novel has lots of characters but they and their relationships are presented with clarity. I never got lost nor had to wonder where I had seen a certain name before. Names of characters are chapter titles for the novel’s twenty-nine chapters. As Cudney develops each character, the relationship to other characters is remarked on, sometimes only briefly, but the reader should not get lost. The character-driven part of the novel, most of it, is excellent. Some of the scenes annoyed me with descriptions of opulent houses I will never see in my lifetime. Descriptions of cuisine that I could neither relate to nor have a desire to do so were also annoying. The quality of the character development was so impressive, at least up to the 80% part of the novel, that all annoyances could be disregarded.
To sum up, the character development stood head and shoulders above anything else in the novel. I gave the novel five stars based on the character factor alone. Each character was maybe not unbelievably wealthy but no principal was going to be left with less than two million dollars cash plus any revenues from sales of business or property as a result of husband and father Ben’s death. They could explore their character flaws without the annoying problem of trying to find their next meal. The abundance of flaws and how the characters reacted to them made the novel interesting until, at the 80% point, with most family problems taken care of in some way, the plot became sickly sweet with a viscosity thicker than Maple Syrup.
There is Ben and Olivia and Diane. Ben will die in the first chapter (not a spoiler) but his character is well developed through the reminiscences of his five sons. Olivia is an annoying, controlling, bitchy mother to the sons, but a loved wife of Ben’s and a fragile character requiring support from her sister Dianne. The five sons; Caleb, Ted, Matt, Ethan, and Zach, all have huge character flaws that Olivia is unaware of. She becomes aware of each of her son’s flaws as she does a road trip after Ben’s death. She wants to meet each of her progeny in their natural setting. Ben has left a letter with the executor of his estate that was to be read only by Olivia. She did not give birth to all five sons, only four of them, so which son is not her biological one? The answer will not affect the division of financial spoils but it will wreak havoc on family relationships.
As Olivia meets each son, she discovers startling truths. Each of these sons has a spouse, sort of. Zach’s spouse is estranged and he is left to raise daughter Anastasia. Ethan will get married to his spouse, Emma, somewhere in the story. The point is; this adds five additional characters, all of whom have important roles.
The character flaws of each son are something I consider spoilers. They will be resolved, not all in good ways, at the magic 80% point. The novel then shifts into a search for Rowena, the birth mother of the child that is not Olivia’s. At this point, the reader is not aware of the identity of the sibling that is not like one of the others. But it was from this point forward that I thought the plot went over the rails of the good ship Lollypop piloted by Pollyanna while drifting in search of a perfect sunset (maybe sunrise).
Which is why I think it strange that I really like this book. It is a five-star read for anyone with a hint of romance and social justice in their character. Which means that my character flaw prevents me from appreciating it to the extent that others did.