Eric's Reviews > Standing at the Scratch Line: A Novel

Standing at the Scratch Line by Guy Johnson
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Oct 03, 12

bookshelves: 1-reviewed-by-me
Read in February, 2012

Wow. What a great book! Not at all what I expected. Completely unique, which is kind of a shame. I mean, why hasn't a story like this been told before? A pre-Civil Rights story about an African American male who is not a door mat shouldn't be such a novel concept, but it is. Yes, the fact that he is almost a super-human hero was a bit hard for me to swallow at first. But then I remembered that I have read lots of books with similar off-the-charts, Superman-like male protagonists (spys, assassins, and other James Bond types) - they've just never been Black in the 1920's!

The hero, King Tremain, is not a very layered character, but some of the others are. The star in this respect would have to be Serenna, a wonderfully complex character, one that actresses would fight over should a movie ever be made.

I must also commend author Guy Johnson for his craftsmanship in one particular area that interests me. He does something very rare in telling this story - something that you hardly ever see in books, and never in movies or TV. This book has several instances where the author hints at a potential plot direction, only to ultimately have that direction quietly die out. Note, I am absolutely NOT talking about the heavy handed "Plot Twists" that authors and scriptwriters typically use to intentionally manipulate emotions. No, I am talking about the very mundane way that 'story lines' ebb and flow in real life. We have ideas, aspirations and intentions that evolve over time. Some of them we pursue, and they become reality, others... simply don't. For a million different reasons. Sometimes we get distracted, or lack motivation. Sometimes expected opportunities don't present themselves. Sometimes we just change. Sometimes others do. Sometimes key people disappear from our life unexpectedly. That's just the way life, real life, is. Quietly unpredictable. But you rarely see this depicted in print, and even less so on screen. On TV, if you see a plot direction hinted at, it ALWAYS plays out. Always. If the lead detective just happens to bump into an old college buddy on the way to the courthouse it will ALWAYS have plot implications; nothing is wasted. Now, to be fair, in TV they have an excuse for this, because they have a fixed time constraint, and so don't have time to document all the subtle complexities of real life. However, novelists do not have such a constraint, so I have never understood why they so willingly give in to this laziness, because doing so makes their story predictable in the same way that TV shows usually are.

Well, this author did NOT give in. This book was very UN-predictable, in quiet ways. It had people die. Main characters that you expected things from. Just die. Out of nowhere, off camera. At one point (spoiler) Serenna contemplates a collaboration with the DuMont clan, and I began sweating out the ramifications of that... but... nothing... ever... came of it. False starts. Just like real life. Made me feel like I was actually reading about a REAL LIFE (except maybe for the super-human black hero ;^).
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Chris Doyle I don't recall King ever doing anything super human. He never takes out multiple people at one time, he never gets injured and shrugs off the bullets or anything like that so I don't know what you're referring to. As for him not being layered i have to disagree on that too. King is guarded with everyone except people who are close to him but through his dialogue and other people's observations you learn how complex and plotting a character he is.


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