Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How Not to Write a Compelling Novel (Except in the Sense of Compelling Readers to Homicide)

When a cursory reading of a book’s inside jacket text in tandem with the first chapter reveals that the protagonist is a thinly veiled fantasy-fulfillment proxy for the author himself, you begin to have uneasy feelings as a reader, especially when that proxy is quickly revealed to be a Marty Stu of near John Galtian proportions (who, of course, is the sole object of the only prominent female character’s sexual attention). Equally ominous is the opening line of the narrative. When you turn to the first page of the first chapter of a novel, you expect to encounter an introduction either riveting or, barring strong authorial creativity, at least mildly interesting; perhaps you would even settle for vaguely diverting.  William R. Forstchen cares not for your expectations. No, William R. Forstchen will start a book any way he damn well pleases, and if William R. Forstchen wants to dedicate the first words of his brainchild to informing us that “John Matherson lifted the bag off the counter,” then by God he will do so.

            You would think the narrative could only move uphill from there. You would think that, but you would be wrong. With each excruciating page, William R. Forstchen drags us deeper into the stygian undercurrents of his Plutonian soul, a swirling cesspool from which flows every incarnation of chauvinistic, jingoistic, racist, sexist, and homophobic bigotry known to humanity (and perhaps even some which hitherto remained unknown). Now, let me take a moment to qualify the previous sentence by noting that I do not believe in judging literature for its moral value.

            Fortunately, One Second After is not literature, and so I have no qualms with judging the shit out of its Gringrichian ass.

            In the world of William R. Forstchen’s imagination (one inhabited, I am fairly confident, only by himself and a select handful of Glenn Beck’s most enthusiastic bedfellows), women do not possess functional free will, and if they do it is only so that their acquiescence to the whims of their male superiors should be all the more sexually fulfilling. Any females who upon introduction display signs of diverging from this attribute are quick to assure the reader to the contrary; the Requisite Love Sex Interest is identified as such before she has a chance to demonstrate anything as dangerous as efficacious narrational causality, and the only female authority figure, the mayor, is concerned less with the operations of her municipality under apocalyptic conditions than she is with managing “not to sound like the dumb female in the crowd here” [sic]. Ultimately the task proves beyond her capability.

            Minorities, though rare enough to confirm the authenticity of the setting, exist only to demonstrate William R. Forstchen's egalitarian magnanimity in granting them firm moral rectitude, despite all demands of realism to the contrary. Most touching of these condescensions is the inclusion of a convenience store-owning Arab who, William R. Forstchen goes to great lengths to assure us, is almost certainly not a terrorist. As far a we know. Though, OK, he probably has a few body bombs in his back freezer. And more likely than not he’s going to murder us all in the name of Jihad. But whatever the bigoted READER might think, the good ol’ townsfolk of Ashbrook aren’t going to jump to any rash racial conclusions, no sirree.

            I won’t attempt to document the full extent of William R. Forstchen's jingoism here because I, unlike William R. Forstchen, do not have time to write a novel. Let it suffice to mention that the phrase “But this is America, God damnit!” (yes, that exact phrase) is uttered with more umbrage than O’Reilly’s appraisal of civil rights and with at least twice as much frequency. None, however, so thoroughly encapsulate the sentiment as the exuberant ejaculation:  “Vitamins. My God, so American! Something so good from a small bottle.”

            It seems almost unfair to criticize the novel on a stylistic, typographical, or grammatical level given its far more glaring moral, structural, and factual issues (the latter two of which I have neither space nor time to address here), but I cannot allow a book with at least fifty uncorrected instances of “would of” or “could of” in place of “would’ve” and “could’ve” to escape my linguistic bile. When you purchase a novel, you expect to receive a finished, edited product, just as the purchaser of an automobile expects to find functional steering and acceleration systems under the shiny hood of his new vehicle. You do not expect, however, to apply pressure to the gas pedal of said vehicle and discover it engages only the windshield wipers; nor do you expect to read said novel and find more spelling errors than an unfiltered YouTube commentary. The stylistic problems of One Second After are equally numerous and somehow significantly more irritating. William R. Forstchen characters, for instance, do not merely speak; they instead say things “sharply,” “coldly,” and most frequently of all “with a sigh.” Words are spoken “with a sigh” so overwhelmingly often that were I analyzing any other work I would label them a motif and conduct an in-depth subtextual study into the literary significance of dramatic aspiration. As it stands, I say (sharply) that their presence is merely an unfortunate consequence of William R. Forstchen’s negligence to take a single creative writing class in his eight plus years of higher education.

            I could keep writing for weeks, but it’s three in the morning, and the mere act of having read this novel already constitutes a far larger segment of my mortal life invested in William R. Forstchen than is conducive to my physical well-being. Or sanity.

Rating: 1/10 (Very nearly compelled me to introduce negative ratings into my scale)

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