The most perplexing thing about Chasing Echoes isn’t how it got made—there’s a writer, there’s an artist—but how it got published. Specifically, the market research saying there are people who are going to buy this thing. If it weren’t for the swearing and the women always bonding over the most unrealistic sex talk anyone's gotten published in ten years, maybe it'd be good for YA. Only there aren't any active teen characters. Pseudo-protagonist Malka has a teenage son who goes off to live with his dad because Mom’s a poor at the beginning of the book; she ostensibly spends the rest of the book worried about being homeless but not really because writer Dan Goldman doesn't know how to write worrying. Or really any other emotional state.
It's a problem. One of the many.
Goldman’s characterizations are bland—caricaturization is the word (and a word)—but so’s his dialogue (even with the occasional f bombs) and plotting in general. The book’s about an extended Jewish family going to see an Elton John concert in Poland and hitting up the family history sites, specifically concentration camps and the grandfather’s hometown. Except they need to find the hometown, which no one except Malka’s going to have any idea about because she’s the family historian even if reigning patriarch (and Malka’s uncle) Jack, doesn’t realize it.
But then they discover Poland’s just as racist and Nazi-primed as ever. It doesn’t really figure into the story—the big moment where it does is so managed it has the same resonance as if someone told off a racist in a Facebook thread—but only because there’s not a story. The book’s about the family deciding even though Malka’s a poor, it doesn’t mean she’s a bad person. But no one has any good eureka moments or comeuppance moments; Goldman doesn’t have a take on any of his caricatures or their ideas. He’ll bring up stuff like modern day genocides or whether or not Japanese-Americans get to be upset about internment and then immediately run away. Thank goodness it’s an early eighties extended family without any gays—just lots of divorce, (let’s not go too far now, it’s not Parenthood) interracial coupling, and “class” differences—because it’s unclear how Goldman would handle any actual friction.
He’d do it poorly, obviously, but probably in some really icky way.
You can tell how artist George Schall would handle it because he’s bland in very predictable ways. He’s technically proficient at his art, though never interesting or ambitious. He doesn’t have a caricature-style (he’s got no distinct style) but he manages to incorporate the details well. Like how Malka’s a wine drunk. Ha. It’s funny. Wine on the face. Ha. Funny. Drunk. Poor.
I mean, props to Goldman and Schall getting someone to pay them for this work but it’s concerning to think someone’s out there earnestly reading it. It was pretty clear how blandly bad Chasing Echoes was going to be a quarter of the way in. I only finished it out of morbid curiosity. Was Goldman ever going to do something well? No, he was not.