I stopped reading Charles Baxter’s The Sun Collective earlier this week. I was about halfway through the book.
My rule of thumb is that I need to give a new novel at least 100 pages before I decide to stop reading it. For this book, I still had my doubts at the 100-page mark, but I kept plowing ahead. Reading the book was feeling increasingly like a chore, though, and I finally gave up and switched to the next novel in my pile. I find myself no longer dreading my evening reading hour, so it definitely feels like I made the right call.
The main character is an older white guy—he is married, but that relationship seems like an afterthought. Going about his mundane days, he finds himself getting drawn closer to a self-help guru and his cult that have taken up residence nearby. There is a secondary plot about a drug-addled young woman who finds herself hooking up with a homeless drifter type; he is part of the aforementioned cult, the “Sun Collective” of the book’s title.
A year or two ago, I decided that I was going to stop reading “literary fiction” by straight white men. I have mostly stuck to this rule and felt good about it, but The Sun Collective somehow slipped through. I think I read a review of it in the NYT book section, or maybe in one of the new books flyers my library sends out. I requested it from the library without really stopping to think about it. In addition to reaffirming my strategy of not finishing books that are not good, The Sun Collective has also reminded me why I decided to stop reading books by old white guys.
There are some exceptions, of course, but these books always seems like thinly-veiled fantasies. A middle-aged or older white man is dissatisfied with his life in some regard and then goes off on some rebellious quest to find himself. Along the way, there is usually some sexually attractive and available younger woman. I flip to the back of the book, take a look at the author’s photo on the dust jacket and think, “Yep—you’re writing about yourself, aren’t you?” These stories have been told a billion times, and they are tiresome. I feel like most of these authors would have gotten a much better return on their time and investment by just going to see a therapist than by continuing to churn out this type of book.