On the surface, White apples has all the ingredients needed for a great read: people retiring from the dead, battle of good vs. evil and romance. Neil Gaiman, who needs no introduction, has given this book a rave review and even provides a preface on its audobook version – so I bought this book thinking it would be, if not terrific, at least good. But I was just left disappointed.
Our protagonist is Vincent – a handsome, forty year old womanizing ad-man with a ‘rabbit-like promiscuity’. He is charming, intelligent and good at his job. He is like a 90s Don Draper without all the soul searching and inner insecurities. Through his job, Vincent has met the beautiful, intelligent, by shy Austrian Isabelle, and found a connection with and such love as he never though he would experience with any woman. So he has left his wife and children for Isabelle, the love of his life, but it turns out she does not want him after all. Which leaves Vincent alone without a family, without Isabele. And it turns out he is dead. Everyone around Vincent have forgotten his cancer, his funeral and are treating him as they always have done, but Vince does not have a pulse and sees talking rats! A mysterious woman called Coco shows up and tells him that he has been brought back to life by Isabelle who carries his child. This little boy will, apparently, save humanity one day and needs his daddy to teach him about heaven and the meaning of life. The only problem is that Vincent does not remember anything from the afterlife and needs to remember ( soon as, please!), because creatures of chaos are showing up, doing their best to kill Vincent’s unborn son.
In order to help him, Vincent has been given new powers after his return. His new abilities reminded me very much of what David, from the tv-series Legion, can do – revisiting past memories and constructing realities. These superpowers are not the traditional ones (flying, crushing bricks in your hands or keeping your breath under water for a long time etc.), but they are much more interesting! They are not only awesome, cool things we all would wish we could do, but they also provide an avenue to explore the past and mindset of our characters – an excellent plot-point in a novel!
Despite this good starting-point, White Apples was just a huge let down for me. For one thing there are some small, but really annoying inconsistencies in the story. For example: at one point Vincent needs to remember that it is his mother’s birthday and that he should call her. A couple of chapters later he reflects on his parents’ deaths years ago. What? If this was Legion, I might have wondered if this was a conscious choice on the part of the author – showing that our narrator is unreliable, misremembering things or altering with his incredible powers, but it just feels like the editor did not do his job.
Also, the characters are just not very well-written and I just could not invest in them. For instance, the female characters in the story are all enamored of Vincent or jealous of Isabelle for having him and if they are not, then they are presented as being the worse person for it. Vincent’s ex-wife Kitty, for example, is justifiably annoyed with him when she suspects (although mistakingly) that he will present their children to the woman he left her for, without telling Kitty in advance. Of course, he should have informed her! But that does not appear to be the authors shares this view – yes, he does write that Vincent was at fault for ruining the marriage, but Kitty is consistently presented as a bitter, sad woman with little to offer anyone and who refuses to see that Vincent as a fantastic person and great dad. Actually, we are told outright that Vincent is the perfect dad, but he does not seem particularly interested in doing actual parenting. He says at one point that he misses hanging out with his children, but he never seems sad about not being around to raise them. Of course a protagonist can be flawed or unlikable, but should that not be on purpose? The author should have enough insight into his creations that he sees that himself.
Perhaps I came to this book with unreasonable expectations – thinking that it must be incredible, but I just could not enjoy it that much.