Some Faraway Place by Lauren Shippen
I had some hope that returning to the approximate 2016 timeframe and another late-teen protagonist who isn’t an outright villain would be a boon for the BRIGHT SESSIONS series. Unfortunately, I had more issues with Some Faraway Place (2021) than either of its predecessors, The Infinite Noise and A Neon Darkness.
A flaw I was irked by in The Infinite Noise came back in full force in this installment, yet worse: the way the teenage characters talk is completely indistinguishable from the adults – both parents and other characters in their 30s. This same-voice problem is a symptom of a larger issue: the characterization completely falls apart. Each character is only barely recognizable as being separate from the others. They all talk the same. They all act the same. I found it both confusing and a bit mind-numbing.
The pop culture references are also back from book one and they are cranked up to 11 in this installment. Where the references made sense (to a point) in The Infinite Noise, the overabundance of them in Some Faraway Place just comes off as annoying. Like the first book, the references are also shallow: they offer nothing to the story itself.
What’s more, the setting as established in the first two books completely falls away in this one. The only thing situating it in time and space are the pop culture references desperately trying to pin it down. A tiny detail that I think encapsulates the lack of setting is that, at one point, a character drives east from Boston. Now, I’ve only ever been to Boston once in my life, but a quick look at a map suggests that if one were to drive east from Boston, they’d meet a watery end. It’s a small detail, but one that illustrates the frankly sloppy work in this book.
Some Faraway Place takes a stab at a semi-epistolary format that I also don’t think works very well. Some chapters or segments are in the main character’s diary, but bizarrely struggle to give any sense of interiority to the character. This becomes a much bigger problem as the book goes on as the character’s inner life becomes the main crux of the conflict and the subject of the incredibly preachy message that crops up at the end of the novel.
In Some Faraway Place, Shippen tries to draw parallels between Rose and the main characters that came before her. Overall, I don’t think she succeeded, and where she did is in the ways these stories didn’t work.
I would describe THE BRIGHT SESSIONS series as plot-lite, with diminishing success as the series progresses.
One of the main weaknesses of the series overall is it’s handling of the temporal setting. Books one and three happen a full decade after book two and yet the characters that appear in all of them are completely, bafflingly unchanged. That there is a central character that appears as both a 19-year-old and a 29-turning-30-year-old and yet he remains unchanged in the intervening decade was extremely frustrating to me. My joy in reading characters is when they grow, change, and develop.
Having the potential of showing a character over that kind of time span and doing nothing with it was frustrating to me as a reader, and especially negatively impacted the third book. It genuinely made me wonder if the author forgot how old the characters were.
If it seemed like an especially good fit, I might recommend the first book to someone. I may even recommend the second book to someone who is really, really into character studies (even lukewarm ones). I would not recommend the third book to anyone.
I went into reading THE BRIGHT SESSIONS with a positive impression of the podcast set in the same world, and I left the series wondering how the same person wrote both. I’m torn between wanting to go back and see if the podcast also went downhill or washing my hands of the world and its stories altogether.