Wayne Courtois's Reviews > Kelland

Kelland by Paul G. Bens Jr.
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's review
Oct 11, 2009

really liked it

No light snack, 'Kelland' is a novel you can sink your teeth into, chew on for a good while, and still have more for later. This is good news, since its dark, mysterious, smoky flavor is worth savoring.

Bens introduces us to a collection of disparate characters. Led by his confident, unobtrusive prose, we follow their stories, seeking a reason for bringing this seemingly random grab-bag of people and events together.

The key to the mystery is Kelland, a protean being who appears in each character’s life in some unexpected way. As various strands of narrative are pulled artfully together, the story reaches a climax in which a violent act expresses the grief and rage and guilt of these characters, and brings a different outcome to each.

It is up to the reader, finally, to decide who or what Kelland is. Nemesis? Agent of change? Fate personified? It says a lot for this novel that it leaves us with questions that are well worth pondering.

'Kelland' did contain some disappointments for me. A few scenes had a perfunctory feel, as if the author were rushing to establish some plot points and move on. And I ached for Lucas, a 15-year-old, to show some trace of personality in his online journal, which is quoted numerous times. I would have loved to come away from the book with a sense of Lucas as a memorable character.

The most developed character in the book is Toan, a Vietnamese immigrant with a difficult past and uncertain future. A gay man and a musician, his life is going about as well as can be expected when more misfortune strikes.

Toan works and lives in a Hollywood neighborhood that is rich in detail and atmosphere; If the novel consisted solely of his story, it would be well worth reading. We’re lucky that Bens gives us more—much more—in this generous and ambitious book.
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