At times incredibly insightful and deep while at others overly detailed in irrelevance, We Are the Kings looks at life through the lens of someone who has just lost their grandmother, a woman whose life it turns out she only partially knew. The story focuses on women’s experiences, which I appreciate, and the many things women don’t always share with each other, the many unsaid things in relationships and the ways our families impact our choices and lives unknowingly. The things held back that also impact our lives and how we cope—or don’t.
The author’s strength is clearly in showing moments of emotion and painful situations in clarity so real, it’s as if it’s the first time it’s been described properly…ever in literature. Torres can have a beautiful way with words that expresses feelings and damage beneath the surface with grace and lucidity. She can bring you into her main character Marcella’s world and make you feel like she’s talking to you, the reader, and telling you an engrossing story over coffee. She can breathe unique, almost tangible personality into Marcella at times, and all of these things are Torres’s best moments. She has amazing talent.
But Marcella’s unique personality isn’t always present, instead popping up here and there, almost so infrequently that it’s easy to forget what her personality is like, with Torres’s author voice overtaking a lot of the book. There are points where the tangents are extremely dull, adding almost nothing to the story. I could skip whole areas if I wanted to (I know this because I didn’t and realized I could have) and miss nothing. The problem is that a lot of time is spent developing characters in ways that are irrelevant to the overall story and to Marcella instead of mixing character building with plot building.
You could argue there really isn’t a plot, that this is just an exploration of a woman and her family from various angles, not meant to have anything in particular that we’re driving toward. But I don’t think this is quite accurate. We’re driving toward Marcella’s self-realization, introspection, and self-discovery. We’re driving toward her relationships with her sisters either recovering or falling apart, and we’re driving toward either growth or deterioration. So there is an obvious point that is always at the center of the book, but there are lots and lots of areas that don’t help us get there. Those were the parts I struggled with the most.
With extraordinarily long paragraphs and no actual dialogue, the format makes the book a bit tedious aside from its tangents, which is a shame because it could have been much more engaging had the paragraphs been broken up in obvious places, more the style of modern writing. And actual dialogue would have brought us closer to the situations and the characters, as opposed to Marcella, whose POV we’re reading from, telling us everything—”everything” being what she wants to tell us. The reader is kept at a distance, not privy to full conversations and instead only given access to tidbits as Marcella sees fit, sometimes just one line of what someone said. It was harder to connect to characters and situations because of this. It’s a style some authors use for sure, but I don’t think Torres used it to the best of its ability; it didn’t benefit the story but instead damaged it.
All in all, this book is probably for readers who enjoy sprawling memoir-like women-focused fiction and don’t mind tangents, page-long paragraphs, and the style of no dialogue.
Thank you, Books Foward, for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review