Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Lifetime to Die by P.S. Meronek

A Lifetime to Die
Author: P.S. Meronek
Release Date: August 1st, 2013
Source: Won in a Goodreads Giveaway

The darkest of secrets sometimes linger for a lifetime. When they are finally exposed they can be like the discovery of an ancient tomb, perhaps better left alone, although never ignored. Aristotle Mercury’s father knew too much, so he was silenced. With the help of his friends in the Russian mob, Aristotle’s Uncle Jacob is able to move in and take over as the new head of the now successful factory that his own brother created.

The year is 1968. As the Red Army’s tanks roll into Wenceslas Square in the very heart of Prague, a seventeen year old Aristotle learns the horrible truth about his father. Five years ago someone else was murdered in his place to make it appear as if he was accidentally crushed under a factory press. Since then his father has been alive and imprisoned in the notorious Prague Institute for the Criminally Insane.

In a daring rescue Aristotle retrieves his barely alive father from the bowels of the terrible prison. After a short time his father succumbs to the ravages of his imprisonment, but not before he divulges the location of the evidence which proves he owned the now thriving factory, and of Uncle Jake’s murderous duplicity in stealing it from them.

With the Russians taking over the country, and the mob closing in to eliminate the only living heir to a burgeoning fortune, Aristotle flees Czechoslovakia and makes his way to America, vowing to one day go back and even the score.

He settles in New York, in Greenwich Village. He’s honest and works hard to learn the new ways of a strange land. Soon he befriends his eccentric landlord, the elderly Mrs. Schroeder. Telly, as his new friends in America like to call him, ignites a withered spirit of adventure in the lady who still believes in the good in people. She owns some property, and Telly has a talent for building. They both learn Telly also has an eye for the deal. Together they first develop her land, and then other land in the exploding New York real estate market. Telly’s ambitions lead him from the posh boardrooms of New York to the lucrative shores of New Jersey, where he’s almost killed as he constructs the world’s largest casino.

Never too far from his mind, always there to haunt and motivate him, Telly dreams of the day he will finally return to his homeland and exact vengeance on his Uncle Jake. In a sweeping saga of familial betrayal spanning three decades of intertwining lives, Telly Mercury finally gets his chance for justice. But does righting of wrongs of a demon filled closet come with a price too high? Secrets are sometimes better left untold, in spite of their screams from across the years to be heard.

His own salvation hanging in the balance, Telly must somehow accept that forgiveness trumps retribution, and money truly can’t buy happiness. And just maybe, as it is with Uncle Jacob, forgiveness is the worst possible epithet for a life lived in the accompaniment of the unquenchable thirst of greed and murder.

Well. That's over. 

I liked this book in the beginning. I really did. In fact, almost the whole first segment had me turning pages and sucked into Aristotle's life. The writing was good, which is pretty much all that's kept my rating up where it is. While I may not have liked the story, I can't say the author doesn't have a decent handle on prose. 

The problem with this book was the plot which went from the pretty basic 'Uncle cheated us out of money' to ... the end. I don't know what happened. Honestly. I feel like I got tempted into reading with a piece of candy then hit over the head with a cinder block. I'm not usually one to be so harsh about a book, but I'm honestly in disbelief at this point. I just keep asking "What happened?!"

A Lifetime to Die would fit into the Drama category, in my opinion. It was faintly reminiscent of a story like The Great Gatsby, although it lacked any clear hook to tether the reader to everything that was going on. [Warning, I might start dropping spoilers here soon, so if you haven't read it and want to, maybe stop here.] When you start this story, you sort of map out the basic elements: Uncle stole factory, hidden documents, murder attempt, mob, escape from the country. Then we get to America, and things start taking a new turn. Telly starts working construction, trying to earn money. Gradually he has a friend who dares him to go bigger and shoot for new dreams. Telly rises through the ranks and starts to make something of himself. Meanwhile, as a reader you're just hanging in there, waiting. What happened to the Uncle? What happened to Prague? Reassurance comes that this will be down the road. Telly is saving, building relationships so he can take on said Uncle. Then he falls in love. Then there is a casino and someone tries to kill him. 

Life falls apart. Telly falls in love again, and I kept waiting for some sort of epiphany. Maybe he's working too hard, and should just settle down and enjoy life? Maybe he needs to head home and resolve things? But Aristotle just keeps reaching higher and higher, still following the ghosts of his past. Time starts slow, then gets faster the more we read. Five years go past. Then six. Then ten. We read through all the small details of his arrival in America then his cousin comes in and I have no idea who she is or why she is important. The biggest 'reveal' doesn't happen until the end of the book, and I honestly don't know what it had to do with the rest of the story. 

Are you confused? I feel confused. 

The problem with A Lifetime to Die was it tried to do too much. Just like the back cover, everything was crammed into this novel and started to gush out the seams. There were points where I thought it would get better, but somehow things just didn't click. Why was it necessary to have so many conversation about profits and legalities and building the empire? Why didn't we get to know the people in his life the way we did Mrs. Schroeder? Time jumps so unexpectedly, I never know if the next chapter is the next day, or five years. This book left me grasping for straws, holding pages that felt ripped out of order while other segments seemed missing entirely. 

I felt like there were messages woven into the book. They needed more polishing to make them clearer, however. This book, as I understood it, was about spending a lifetime rushing forward, chasing something, only to find you turn around, and the moment is over. Years become moments, gone. It's the curse of youth to never look back until it's too late. However prominent that message could have been, it was lost in the mess for me. There was nothing to carry the story from point A to point B, so I just ended up sitting somewhere between the two, wondering what happened.

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