Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Review: "What Happened to Sophie Wilder" by Christopher Beha

Christopher Beha's What Happened to Sophie Wilder is a well-written and intriguing, if not entirely enjoyable, meditation on creativity, faith, relationships, and coming to terms with one's demons. It tells the story of Charlie Blakeman, a young writer living in New York City, who is struggling to write his second novel, one he hopes will be more successful—and altogether better—than his first.

While a creative writing student in college, he met a fellow writer named Sophie Wilder. More talented and more driven than Charlie, Sophie recommended books for him to read, and she provided a great deal of creative inspiration for him. They spent much of their college days together, reading, writing, walking, and creating threads of stories that each would try to make something of. The two became romantically involved, although Sophie's attentions would wane from time to time, but she'd inevitably return to Charlie. But when a situation causes them to have a more permanent falling out, they go their separate ways, and although Charlie would see Sophie from time to time, they never really spoke for the rest of college.

Nearly a decade later, Sophie returns to Charlie's life, her marriage ended, and armed with a story of how she spent time caring for a dying man with his own secrets. During their time apart, Sophie converted to Catholicism and began attending mass on a daily basis; she looked to the church to provide her guidance and strength. But despite Charlie's wishes, Sophie isn't willing to pick up where they left off, and when she disappears again, Charlie goes looking for her, in an effort to better understand the woman he has always loved.

This book wasn't quite what I expected; at the start it seemed like it would be more of a story about the desire to write, the need for notoriety and literary renown. It became more of a book about a writer who lacks true motivation and inspiration to write, pursuing the one troubled woman who got away. And while this would be a fine story in principle, Sophie's character doesn't show very much emotion, even to Charlie, so it's difficult to understand why so many people fell under her spell. I was interested in knowing how the story would resolve, but found myself wishing it would move faster. I also felt that the book ended rather abruptly.

Christopher Beha is a very talented writer and he addresses the themes of creativity, unrequited love, and faith quite adeptly. I just wish the characters he created had a little more depth, and were a little more likeable.

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