I found myself struggling through The Palaver Tree, a novel with many good ideas that is let down by its unnecessary girth and a few other fatal flawsI found myself struggling through The Palaver Tree, a novel with many good ideas that is let down by its unnecessary girth and a few other fatal flaws.
The story of a woman who takes an opportunity after a tragedy to offer something positive by teaching in Africa, the book is earnest, and contains occasional moments of promising style.
But the prose is sometimes tortured and there are syntactic issues throughout. The characters are (mostly) likeable but narrowly drawn, and I was not caught by surprise by any of the twists. To the contrary, one of the principle conclusions felt contrived and unlikely. The dialogue was so-so; occasionally it rang true, occasionally it was forced. But little of it was compellingly personal, with the possible exception of the travails of the somewhat sad figure Tiffany, who has a key role.
The story has real promise and so does some of the writing; but a decent editor could easily cut the book in half and it would only improve the pacing, which is fairly leaden until about two-thirds of the way through the book, at which point it quite suddenly picks up. The conclusion was enjoyable but rang unrealistic.
I really wanted to like the Palaver Tree; I was born and spent my childhood in Africa. But ultimately, I felt it was undone by its own ambition, a fairly simple -- and potentially suspense-laden -- story that runs too long and is a bit too unfocussed....more
The Legend of T93 is a poorly named book. It’s a hell of a good book, but that name is just insufficient. Thin. Wan. Tame.
This is a book with meat onThe Legend of T93 is a poorly named book. It’s a hell of a good book, but that name is just insufficient. Thin. Wan. Tame.
This is a book with meat on its bones and characters you’ll actually ponder after you’ve completed it. Maybe it'll be remembered with the more muscular-and-contracted 'T93.' We can only hope. Suggestion for next cover revision: make the T93 bigger than 'the legend of'.
But I digress.
Aside from the title it has only one other real flaw: it's too short.
I don't say that glibly, as in "oh Gosh, I loved it so much that it felt too short." Instead, I say it in the forensically critical sense. The novel could have been even more richly rewarding at another 100 pages of fine character development; a little more time in the arena; a bit more about Granite's history and the post-apocalyptic-and-literal separation between church and state; a little more of the social structure in Summerhill. Author Michael Hermman has built such an impressively real and textured world that it almost demands he give us more.
He’s a fantastic writer, and no one would have protested.
It's a fine novel based around that age-old adventure tradition of relying on strongly plotted character studies and then interweaving their fortunes. The hero, Sethric Chun, leaps off the pages via first-person narratives interspersed with the standard third-person arc of the story. He's like the bastard son of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Stanislaw Lem, a brutal warrior with a good heart, up against a brutally anesthetic technocratic dictatorship. His nemesis Enslann is movie bad guy bad, drawn broadly as an utter sociopath with a tactical head on his shoulders.
The morals in the book are drawn pretty broadly, too, although that's not to suggest it lacks suspense: there's more than enough to keep pages turning, even if there is an inevitable and building sense that Hermman couldn't possibly let the bad guy win.... could he?
Ha! Like I'd tell you and ruin the big finale. Fat chance!
The book’s greatest strength is the author’s smooth prose, which exhibits patience in painting each of its most graphic scenes with vivid, colorful detail. He’s such a good stylist it would be fun to see what he’d do with a classic Burroughs character like John Carter or Robert Howard’s Conan. The mechanism of jumping between first- and third-person never intrudes, instead guaranteeing a greater emotional investment on the part of readers. In the book’s early stages, when a new and creatively different world is being introduced to us, this furthers our emotional investment substantially, due to a key relationship between the hero and villain.
It’s easy to recommend the Legend of T93. I wish it had been a little longer, but what it does, it does well.
I concede off the top to getting only 40% through the book before calling it a day.
Author Josh Karaczewski displays occasional moments of clever metapI concede off the top to getting only 40% through the book before calling it a day.
Author Josh Karaczewski displays occasional moments of clever metaphor and compelling turn-of-phrase, but they are too few and far between in this utter wreck of a novel.
Alternately a rambling narrative and an exercise in literary experimentation, it succeeds at neither, feeling ponderously pretentious in its use of eighteen-syllable dialogue while at the same time capturing some of the worst traits of bad fiction: long, overwrought paragraphs of unnecessary exposition and description; voiceless, charmless characters; conversations that are unrelentingly unrealistic.
This lack of care extends to the proofreading (most of us indies are awful on that front) and the actual sentence structure, which on at least one occasion runs away from the author and ceases to even make sense. On numerous other occasions it features more than one tense in the same clause, which is terribly awkward.
The lead character is a songwriter who became such due to a childhood rape that is described in brutally artificial terms; as a victim of childhood sex assault myself, it was difficult to read such an absence of true empathy for how a person is feeling in that moment, its desire to use stylistic interpretation instead of raw pain.
All of this pretense and playful disrespect for the craft of writing would be forgivable with a great story at the book's heart, or even a mildly entertaining one, but there just isn't.
This books is praying for direction and an editor. The plotting is sparse at best, and it has the feel of being made up as the author went along, a flight of fancy.
But people shouldn't have to wade through hundreds of pages of a flight of fancy, and I'm certainly not going to.
It's obvious from the occasional moment of lucid consideration and delicate prose that the author is capable of so much more than this....more
Alexios, Before Dying is a somewhat daunting book to review, as it borders on the experimental, setting up tangible connections between seemingly uncoAlexios, Before Dying is a somewhat daunting book to review, as it borders on the experimental, setting up tangible connections between seemingly unconnected characters, then introducing a conclusion that is so utterly original as to be almost baffling.
It's a beautifully written book, a work of craft reminiscent of some of the best writing of Terry Southern or Ken Kesey.
Nonetheless, the lack of a defined and familiar conclusion is truly daunting. It's as if someone set up a plot where "A" led to "B", which led to a conclusion of ..."Q". You can't help but admit the final conclusion may be as correct as any of the myriad possible answers, but our natural instinct to expect "C" makes the sudden shift in perspective both fascinating and disturbing.
As an amateur student of human development and neuroscience, my rational side is bothered somewhat by the book; although author Chance Maree uses the backdoor "out" of noting that all metaphysical experience may simply be a consequence of brain chemistry, she also postulates that perhaps it is a matter of how we define our own perceptions, that even if we are just imagining things, it's how that perception affects us that is important, not the perception itself; perhaps the afterlife isn't at all what we imagine it to be but instead just a reflection of the unceasingly recycled nature of the energy that makes up the universe, a series of personalities occupying one "family tree" of experience, where the bonds of love are the only permanence.
Or, at least, that's what I got from it. It's the optimistic side of agnosticism's half-full glass of water, the idea that the manifestation in our world of things spiritual and magical is a consequence of us only seeing one small corner of our own existence. The world is relatively static; it's the people and perceptions recycled, reinvented by one generation after another, in part to tie them through the familiarity of community and ceremony.
It's also a brave book with respect to its fairly open contempt for the orthodoxies that bind human existence within man-made religions. It's not open contempt for religion, just for its use to repress. In fact, the book revels in the power of ceremony to open up our mind's eye to new perceptions; I imagine the author has gone through a number of types of spiritual soul-searching in her days.
Having gushed optimistically, I should also caution that, with respect to neuroscience, more is known about the biochemistry underpinning spiritualism than this book lets on, and there are much more pragmatic conclusions that can be reached about why we believe things and see things that are spiritual or magical.
We can be optimistic, and hope that spiritualism is part of some timeless continuum, in which we'll continue to play some role after this life ... or we can note that certain types of ceremony induce a self-hypnosis via the reduction of blood flow in the posterior parietal lobe, the part of the brain that controls time and space, and consequently we can become so comforted we go into a trance-like state of hallucination.
That's it. That's all. No magic, no purpose, just an element of survival instinct, a hard-coding in the brain that helps it detach from this reality when this reality becomes overwhelming -- and one that happens to play into the unanswerable questions we have about the nature of existence, answers we'll likely never attain, as existence is a constant, unbound by the anthropomorphized limitations of "beginning, middle and end."
For an explanation of the afterlife, we can consider that symptomatically, theories suggesting the pineal gland releases large quantities of dimethyltriptamine when the brain is about to shut down would explain our sense of being one with God, as it also shuts down the posterior parietal lobe right before death. With no ability to account for time and space, that shut down from this life could seem like an eternity in another realm, one made up of physical manifestations of our own thoughts, dreams and feelings.
But enough about biology. It's a fascinating, challenging book, beautifully written with attention to every line and spare word. It's beautifully crafted, if daunting for those not grounded in challenging their own perceptions, and well worth a read.