The Infinite Now

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 17 Nov 2017

Member Reviews

It was actually kind of fun to escape the daily grind and transport to another time and place in reading this book and the author does a great job with the story. 

Fiora Vicente is the daughter of an Italian immigrant fortune teller.  She loses her parents to the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 and is taken to live with a friend of the family in a tenement house. Fiora takes possession of a magical curtain that allows her to see five minutes into the future. Fiora is afraid that the old man who has taken her in will die soon, so she creates a bubble around herself to keep time from progressing. 

Yep, like magic, but the magic is subtle and metaphorical to readers. A very fascinating read that I thoroughly enjoyed from cover to cover.  When I finished this book, I felt like I was being forced to return to the real world! It was a great read outside the realm of my "normal" type of book!
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I found this novel gritty, ugly and real in the most perfect way. A story full of magic and tragedy, beautifully balanced. LGBT+ inclusive with a satisfying ending.
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DNF @ 40%

While the concept and set-up of The Infinite Now are really good; the actual execution of story is so boring. I can't believe I was only at 40% when I stopped reading this as it felt like the story should be almost over. By 40% I felt like I had been reading for thousands of pages (even though it was only just over 100 pages in reality). 

The Plot
It's really unfortunate as the concept is quite god. Our lead gal has lost her parents due to the influenza outbreak during war time in London. Her mother was a seer or witch. Subsequently the superstitious Londoners are afraid of her and she is lucky to be taken in by an old man who seems to have some loyalty to her family. 
She inherits a curtain that seems to help tell the future, meets another witch who may be nefarious but appears to be trying to help, everyone in her area is ailing, children are starving as their parents have influenza and can't get out of bed, meanwhile war is raging elsewhere. 

Sounds kind of good right?
It should be but sadly it's not. I'm not sure if it's the writing, the repetitive nature of the narrative or that our lead gal is just boring. But I can say with certainty that I'd had enough and just wanted to read anything else. So a DNF it is. 
I'm always sad to DNF (as it's maybe unfair to the author) but at some point you have to stop the bleeding and move on.
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My file immediately went into "archived". I was not able to read the file.
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Dare to be driven into a time of horrific, torturous and dire circumstances of a period in Philadelphia in 1918 ravaged with influenza and the absence of a majority of the male population in a time of war. Small children abandoned by death is no stranger, nor is small children caring for dying parents. Intertwined in the trying times is a fantasy story of a girl who is struggling to figure out if she has supernatural capabilities like the mother she loves and misses dearly, in a world where she is completely unaccepted because of those abilities. While she struggles, and is criticized and faced with moral dilemmas of her own, she is left with responsibilities and unfairness while determined to define her true self. 

I struggled with the characters of this novel, as I thought Fiora, the main character, created the aura of a strong female that would stand behind what she believed in, but then backed down when turned against. The elements of fantasy were a little messy, but I did find myself unable to put the book down at times.
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"The future was too large to fathom, the past too heavy to bear, the present always there and infinite, and none of it had any answers."
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If only this book hadn't tried to be so many things...

The author is clearly very talented. There were many points in the book where I had to reread the sentences uttered by her characters aloud, because they were so graceful and poignant and spot-on.  Unfortunately, those were matched by the sentences I had to reread because I either couldn't believe they were made or because I had no idea why they were there/what they meant...

This is a story about the "Spanish" influenza pandemic of 1918-19. And about magic. And about immigrants in early twentieth century Philadelphia. And about family. And about women's rights. And about fear. And about love. And about...  That's the problem I had with it, in a nutshell: keeping all the bits going was a struggle, and the narrative flailed around a number of times because it kept trying to do so. I almost put the book down and didn't pick it back up at least five times - yet something made me persevere to the end. I don't know if I'm glad I did - on one hand, yes, because there are glimmers of gorgeous storytelling scattered throughout. On the other, not so much, because I was, in alternating stages, depressed, frustrated, irritated, and worn down by the travails of Fiora (most, if not all, of which were entirely of her making). 

I think the book needed a heavier-handed editor, to sharpen the story by keeping it to a smaller number of story lines. The flu and concomitant fears about Fiora were fascinating by themselves. As the author points out in her end notes, more people were killed by the flu in 1918-19 than were killed in the ENTIRE first World War... And this in a time without much understanding of epidemiology, virology, or contagion control. The fear and paranoia and confusion were haunting and comprised much of what I most liked about the book.

I also liked the concept of the magic - the guaritrice, the curtain, the bubble - but think that it suffered in its execution. I found the bubble to be the best explained of the three - and that's not saying much, because it basically appears, shifts, and disappears without much more explanation than that, despite this being the part of the book emphasized in the blurb...  The curtain was, frankly, confusing - both as image and metaphor. Conceptually I understand it, but its presentation in the story felt uneven and unnecessarily confusing. The guaritrice was another fascinating construct, but one that got overwhelmed at times by the multiplicity of things going on with and around her.

And the characters...  They were uneven to say the least. The ones I quite liked the most - the old man, Carlo, Benedetta - were interesting and colorful (although Carlo's personal revelation felt very random and tacked on, particularly given the ending - sorry, can't say more for spoilers, so apologize for the oblique comment). Fiora was infuriating for much of the story - a child, then a woman aged before her time, then at odd moments childlike again. I appreciate that she was thrown into a situation she was utterly unprepared for, but I found her character arc dissatisfying and felt either ambivalent or outright hostile to her quite often...  And her unintentionally self-revelatory moment felt as random as Carlo's, again primarily because of the ending. Incidentally, without the tidy and rather false-feeling "resolution" of those revelations at the end, incidentally, their personalities, actions, and interactions would have made MUCH more sense and made much of the earlier story tie together nicer, in my humble opinion...

Confused? Find my review to be a jumble of interrelated but not entirely coherent thoughts and comments? That's largely how I felt while reading. There was some truly great stuff here, but it was mired in a lot that felt random and overly (and unnecessarily) convoluted and over-explained (despite there being vast swaths that also felt rather unfortunately under-explained).  Still, I admire the effort at bringing so many pieces together into a whole, and would give the author another chance - although she'll have to grab AND hold me much earlier on next time, because I wouldn't expend this much effort trying to make my way through again...
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The plot summary did seem interesting when I requested this book, but the execution wasn't as great as I hoped it would be. 

The language seems a bit too flowery, and the excessive use of words made me feel like I was choking on the author's thoughts. The characters were nicely described, and the old man, Fiora Vicente, Carlo, Benedetta, the Lattanzi children seemed interesting. If not for the writing style, I would have persevered to the end of the book. 

I have finished reading 50% of the book, and do not intend to complete the book further.
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I had such a hard time understanding the book and the main character. There were times when I really didn't understand why she was being so willfully stupid. There was one character who I adored and then she was killed off.
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This is a book that blurs the boundaries of several genres, and does so quite successfully. Set in Philadelphia in 1918 at the height of the flu epidemic, this is the story of Fiora, the recently orphaned daughter of a local fortune teller. Armed only with her mother's magical curtain, she winds up in the home of a local shoemaker, and gradually finds the beginning of a new family. When the magic curtain reveals a danger to her new guardian, Fiora somehow encapsulates the area in a magical bubble where time stands still, but this Infinite Now she creates , like any bubble will pop eventually, the question is will she be able to do it safely.
Obviously there is more than a hint of magical realism in this YA book, but the author has gone to great pains to create vivid and accurate historical details that really bring the city and the era to life, and this is one of my favourite things about the book. There are lots of good ideas, but the story does get a little bogged down in the middle before a clever resolution brings everything back on track. 
My biggest criticism of the book is the shoehorning in of a gay romance, it felt very forced and out of place, which is a shame, I wish it had been better handled. It could have been a very interesting and moving extra dimension to the story , but unfortunately it seemed more like something that was added almost as an after thought. Then to add insult to injury another character who was gay, apparently changed his mind later in the story, which seems a little galling , almost suggesting he married the gay away, though I hope this was not the author's intention .
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I have a lot of really mixed feelings about The Infinite Now.

On one hand, it was undeniably a really interesting book.  On the other hand, it reminded me of a mess of yarn tangled on the floor after my kitten is done playing with it.  There are a lot of ideas and characters and intertwining stories.  The author reveals very little.  Most characters are wrapped around secrets.  This book needs to be read very slowly and very carefully, or you'll end up in a corner and not know how you got there.

Lets start with what I loved:  the history.

Tarquini clearly took the time to research the influenza epidemic in the United States during World War I.  This is something I know a little bit about and this setting was the whole reason I requested this book.  Little known fact?  The influenza epidemic killed more between between 1918 and 1919 than the entire Great War.  Despite its insanely high death tolls, especially for an illness we consider very manageable today, this epidemic doesn't get a lot of attention.  The fear people in Fiora's neighborhood had of this disease would have been very real for the time.  Details like beggar children in the streets add to the complete societal meltdown because of this illness.

The superstitious behavior of the people on the streets and in the market towards Fiora, as well, seems fairly accurate as well.  It would have seemed suspicious and roused anger to see a girl walking the streets, completely healthy, while loved ones were dying.  The architecture, transportation, market situation - all of these seem accurate for the period and were well done.

What I didn't like:  the fantasy.

Usually I dive right into the fantasy elements of the book, but I really felt like it overcomplicated the story in this case.  Fiora was the local fortune-teller's daughter, and as such she's treated with such scrutiny.  Everything she says is considered prophecy and so, when something bad happens, the townsfolk blame her.

You have a few different elements of fantasy in this book:

- The magic curtain.
- The guaratrice.
- The bubble.

In ways, these are metaphorical.  The guaratrice ("healer" in an Italian community) certainly has a part to play in this town.  Without giving away too much of the novel, I will say that I felt these elements were placed in the story to explain behavior and sickness, but the story would have stood on its own without them.  Especially the curtain and the bubble.  The curtain and the bubble are part of Fiora's character development overall, and they relate to the title, but they don't contribute very much to the soul of the story, in my opinion.  That's just my opinion, though!  I really think that this story could have untangled itself a bit, ridden with the theme of superstition and epidemic, and done quite well.

I have mixed feelings about the characters.

Fiora, in particular, vexes me.

At the beginning of this story, Fiora is demure and shy.  She behaves very young and confused, and I immediately disliked her - especially when I learned she was seventeen.  As the story continued, she blossomed more into her true age and personality, and by about 50% through she was a larger character.  Who Fiora was at the beginning, middle, and end were three different characters and I did not feel the beginning and middle characters flowed together well.

Other characters are good; still others are vexing.  I found both the old man and the guaratrice to be flat and secretive to the point of exasperation.  However, I really liked Carlo and Bendetta.  There is a scene near the middle of the book where the three - Carlo, Bendetta, and Fiora - are sitting in Bendetta's kitchen determined to help their neighbors and displaced children and they call themselves the Three Musketeers.  This is absolutely the best scene in the book.

Other things that didn't work for me:

I felt that the allusions to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz were awkward and didn't quite suit the story.  While the guaratrice seems to line up with the Wicked Witch of the West character, I did not feel the rest of the story lined up too Dorothy and the others.  Even Fiora, as she drew relations in her mind, seemed to be stretching.

The homosexuality seemed tossed, haphazard, and didn't resolve well.  It made me cringe a bit?  It didn't fit the story and seemed tossed in just for the sake of being there.  The way it was managed in the end seemed very "this is the solution and we'll pretend it never happened!" and while I'm not going to say it was never treated that way in the early 1900s, again it seemed very rough.  While I don't object to having homosexuality in this book, it ultimately served no purpose either as part of the love story or plot, and felt tossed in for the benefit of a demographic.

The ending seemed to switch perspectives from the present into the distant future, and it was jarring.

If anyone is wondering, a Big Ben is a clock.  I don't think they're ever referred to as a clock, and while I drew a comparison to London's famous Big Ben, I had to look it up because they're mentioned a lot.

Overall?

I know I have a lot of criticisms, but I did enjoy reading this book.  I really liked the historical aspects and spending time in this Italian-American neighborhood in the early 1900s.  I think the writing style was overall interesting and it kept me coming back to the story.
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The Infinite Now, written by Mindy Tarquini is an interesting book which seems to cross a few genres.  It might not technically fit as a historic fiction, but given the amount of research the author apparently did, it is hard not to see the parallel.  I don’t want you to take my word for this, I’ll try to explain what parts of the book seem to work and what do not and why so you can decide for yourself.  Comments are always welcomed.

Mindy Tarquini is a talented author and while you may not feel it appropriate to consider the author of the story, it can be an interesting way to gain meaningful insight.  Mindy is a self-described Italian traditionalist and it shows in this book.  The historical accuracy seemed to be of interest to her as she sneaks in little details about the experiences of Italian immigrants during the early twentieth century.  She also has a very sharp wit, which is evident if you follow her twitter feed.  The light heartedness finds itself in her book between the moments of intense drama.  If you ever find yourself bored and a little more interested in the author I highly recommend reading some of her tweets, they can be quite entertaining.

One of the first things the summary of the book, expresses is the passage of time and the future.  There is a time bubble involved and one of the first questions this begs is just what does that mean?  Without giving away the story, this is going to be one of the central themes, but it would be a mistake to see this complex story as something so simple.  Right? If a concept like freezing time isn’t complex enough, but even with the myriad of possibilities here the book manages to be far deeper than that.

If this alone has convinced you to give this book a try then great, but that’s just scratching the surface of what is going on in this book.  She uses a lot of common tropes and techniques in unique ways thorough her story.  Early on there is a hint of a romantic interest and the way the characters interact may seem familiar, but it would be a mistake to think this book is going to be in any way predictable.  Giving up on the book early on would be a big mistake since things do not necessarily play out as expected.  This also shows up in the way the book portrays traditional values versus modern thinking, something which you may recall is dear to the author.

One of the main themes in this book is modern vs traditional.  The battle between these two concepts is waged practically the entire time and it may seem like the author is trying to push one view over the other.  I won’t spoil where this goes, only that you shouldn’t assume you know or that the book is going to fall into predictable patterns.  One of the things that is most fascinating here is the setting, around 1920’s when a similar battle was being played out in the US.  The culture wars may never cease and this book captures it well and wraps it up into the theme along with the time element.  If you have a horse in this race then try not to let the early book bother you, it is just setting the stage for what is to come.  I do not recall what city the book takes place in, but it could have easily been Boston or New York.  

The Setting is an extraordinarily fleshed out view of this time and prospective.  The descriptions are not limited to just the lives, but also the houses and even the technology at the time.  No small amount of effort is put into describing the individual aspects of the daily grind or the struggles that go along with them.  The story weaves these aspects so closely to the plot that it ends up feeling integral to the overall narrative of traditional versus modern with a heavy dose of personal responsibility tossed in.  Some of the descriptions may not be for the faint of heart and the loss that occurs as a fact of life is likewise not sugarcoated.

Is this book a straight historical fiction? It is not.  There is magic in the book even if the book leaves some room for the possibility that the magic occurs all in the MC’s head.  That interpretation would probably be a bit of a stretch and for those seeking something entirely mundane in terms of fantasy elements, this book might not be for you.  The magical part is questionable in what is going on, most of it is vague and without a great deal of explanation for better or worse.

LGBT is a rather big theme these days and a lot of books will address it in one way or another.  Given the setting, it would be entirely forgivable if it didn’t come into this book, but it does.  How it comes into play and where it goes would be a spoiler, so I’ll avoid specifics.  This might be a bit of a sticking point for some and given the resolution it may seem like the book is walking a very tight rope, risking offending people on both sides of the isle.  The only spoiler, non-spoiler I can give is that the book doesn’t pass judgement on the subject.  Ultimately the book does try to lampshade this a touch by reminding the reader almost instantly that this portion is written in the context of the era.

The biggest thing that might bother some readers is probably the sheer number of topics being covered, or at least their combined complexity.  Even as they do tend to work well together, things like family, responsibility, friendship, time, change. . etc..  These all come up and are very important to this book.  Amazingly everything is managed, but not exactly neatly.  Some of the resolutions may seem to be a little poorly explained or require imagination by the reader to fully grasp.  It may not have been possible to tell this story without taking some risk, so it’s up to you if this sort of thing will bother you or not.

Ultimately this is a very thought-provoking book that does a good job of weaving a story that doesn’t exactly fulfill the expected paths it will take.  The historic setting is nicely mixed with a modern view of the world, even though it is written from the eyes of someone living in the century it was written.  Though Mindy self-proclaims to be in love with traditional Italian culture, she isn’t afraid of showing an evolving view of the world and the constant march of change, nor does she ultimately pass judgement on that either.  Though the start may be slow, the destination is worth the effort and there are many treasures to be found in this book.  I personally found it quite recommendable for this day and age.  Only modern thinking.
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