Between Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm and The Ten Loves of Mr. Nishino I have now come to the conclusion that books about sleazy womanizers and the women who at some point or other loved them are not for me. Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm appealed to me because I find that ensemble-cast books usually make for a kaleidoscopic reading experience. Sadly, most of the voices in this Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm ended up sounding exactly the same. With the exception of Maggie, who is a free spirit and therefore allowed to exist beyond her relationship with Circus were more or less blank slates, who spend their time thinking about Circus or in the case of Koko dodgy boys. If I hadn’t known who the author was, I would have assumed that they were a man, as the women in this story are as cliched as they come. With the exception of Circus, Koko, and her mother, Pia, each character is only given a chapter to shine in. The glimpse we get into their lives however felt far too shallow, and it frustrated me that these women are given no complexities, no real selves. They seem to exist only as a consequence of Circus, and because of this, their personalities suffer. Funnily enough, even if they spend a lot of their page time thinking about Circus, how they met, how things ended, and often yearning to be the one who is able to ‘change’ him…I still found it hard to believe that they were so devoted to him. We are told he is a real charmer, smooth-talking, and a talented trumpet player. But…he just came across as a sleazy guy who is beyond selfish, and manipulative, and a man who discards women as if they were disposable utensils. His lines ranged from corny (but not in an endearing way) to plain gross. Sure, his flaws are very much the driving force linking all of these voices together, but he was so one-note it was hard for me to care about him (doing better etc). It annoyed me that all of these women were reduced to the role they have with him (exes, daughter, lover, etc) and that their narratives had to stress just how hung-up and passive they are.
Koko is the kind of teenage girl we often find in adult fiction. That is to say, she is ‘angsty’, ‘self-centred’, and full of ‘silly’ ideas about love, sex, and life. It frustrated me that her character arc ultimately hinges on her wanting to have sex as if other aspects of her life (friendships, hobbies, etc) weren’t interesting or deserving enough of being explored. Also, at one point we have a scene referring to Koko’s ‘virgin’s blood’…which, anche no.
What I hated the most is how the narrative then decides to go for a very convenient, sadly moralistic, and rushed plot point that results in Circus ‘learning’ his lesson. We are also given a happy ending of sorts which felt really jarring…
The prose often veered into sentimentality, even when attempting to come across as sensual or affecting. We even get a variation of the very much tired ‘someone lets out a breath’ phrase which did nothing to improve my impression of the author’s writing. Sure, here and there we have some observations that come across as insightful or piercing, but these often lead to less effective platitudes on love and sex, women and men. Also, given how many characters we get, it was a bit frustrating to have one woman be bisexual only as a way to turn on Circus…
I wanted more female solidarity, a more nuanced exploration of femininity and masculinity, and a more convincing portrayal of a fraught father-daughter bond. Circus and Koko’s interactions often came across as either painfully scripted or as consisting of badly delivered lines.
More than anything, I longed to read about people who are flawed yet complicated individuals, as opposed to the entirely generic and not-at-all-believable characters we get here. The women’s voices sounded too much alike, which was weird given that they are of different ages and come from different backgrounds. Circus was a one-note sleaze who did not deserve the convenient redemption arc he got. I swear the stuff he said & did made me either seethe with rage or want to hurl.
If you are interested in Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm I recommend you check out more positive reviews.
My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
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