The Fifth Avenue Story Society
When I read the blurb for The Fifth Avenue Story Society, it appealed to me. The idea of strangers mysteriously brought together, people finding second chances in life, and perhaps some romance along the way all caught my eye. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bit of a clunker. It has its moments, but not nearly enough to make it a book I’d recommend.
The story starts with a bit of mystery, as we see each of the five core characters receiving their invitations to the mysterious society. Jett is a professor working towards tenure and struggling both with his divorce and with his own doubts about the subject of his upcoming publication. Aside from being divorced, he would seem to have little in common with Uber driver Chuck, who is down on his luck and barred from seeing his children by a protective order. However, the two bond as soon as they meet.
The society is rounded out by Coral – an heiress who seems to have it all but who is obviously still unsettled by her recent decision to end her engagement – elderly widower Ed, and Lexa, an ambitious young woman angling for a promotion to the job that she basically does already for not nearly enough recognition. None of these folks knows why they received their invitations to come spend Monday nights at the odd little library, but curiosity brings them there. Tentative friendships and the beginnings of trust keep them coming.
As I read, every now and again I’d see moments in the story that made me think this could be a compelling book. When members of the group start sharing their struggles with one another, there’s a certain energy to the dialogue and to their interactions that pulls one in. Unfortunately, there is not enough of this.
The early chapters of the book contain lots of exposition and explanation as to how the characters got to where they are. It’s hard to engage with these info-dumps and they tend to be overwritten, so they left me a bit cold.
In addition, the author tells the story using the alternating viewpoints of all five main characters. This does allow readers to see into these people’s lives when they’re not at Story Society meetings, but it also means the author has lots of plot threads to juggle and frankly, more than a few of them get tangled and lost in there. Ms. Hauck seems most surefooted when telling Coral and Lexa’s stories and both women have character arcs that develop pretty distinctly throughout the book.
However, the mens’ stories fare less well. Jett has a lot of turmoil in his life, both professional and personal, but the reader never really gets inside his head and there’s a certain distance there that keeps one from really engaging with him. Chuck’s story suffers from similar issues. As a lawyer, I found his situation not entirely plausible so that kept me from sympathizing. The constant drumbeat of ‘My ex-wife committed adultery and this is all her fault’ didn’t really help there either.
In the end, I came away from this book thinking that the author tried to juggle too many main characters and ended up not deeply fleshing any of them out. With attention scattered in so many directions, everyone’s stories got glossed over rather than explored and opened up to the reader.
The Fifth Avenue Story Society is Christian/Religious fiction, and I know readers are often curious about the degree of inspirational content involved in such novels. Most of this book is fairly light on the inspy content, and not very preachy. There is a scene where one character describes going through a conversion experience, and church is a part of characters’ lives to varying degrees, but the inspy messages are not at all heavy-handed. Nevertheless, given the other issues with this book, it’s one that I suspect most readers would not feel compelled to read.