Review of “A Demain” by Joe Tom King

This is another book by a member of the writing group I joined a year ago. I think it was self-published, although the author uses an official-sounding publisher, Archway Publishing. I wonder if it’s trademarked? Anyway, I didn’t expect much after reading a number of self-published ebooks, and I wasn’t disappointed.

This was a first draft at best. The grammar and punctuation, not to mention cut-and-paste errors, increased exponentially from the first to last page. I felt like my eyes were bleeding by the last sentence. The beginning of the book introduces a first-person narrator who is also a central character, Jack Riordan, but somewhere, about a third of the way through the book, the entire writing style changed…for the worse. I have used multiple first-person narrators, and even third-person POV (point of view) mixed with first-person, not to mention two first-person narrators speaking in the past and present, so I’m not hung up on narrator style. But what the author does here distracts from the story; namely, he begins a chapter in the third person past, then drifts into first-person past, then periodically becomes omniscient, often in the present tense. It’s called head hopping among writers and it is a confusing style of writing. I don’t know if it is intentional or not, a choice to leave the reader in the same confused state as the characters.

The plot is simple, the last few weeks of an elderly man’s life. The source of his imminent demise is kept from the reader and a surprise is introduced before the climax. This was pretty good and I was interested, albeit confused.

I spent a couple of years in the company of elderly people, in RV parks around the south (BTW, the story takes place in Florida), and I’ve seen a lot of different couples, even groups of elderly couples. But I never saw four such couples who were as similar as the characters in this story; I couldn’t tell them apart, even though they were described as being different from the (constantly changing) narrator’s perspective. They were all totally fixated on sex. I understood that elderly people can have an active sex life within the first ten pages, but it was emphasized in every SINGLE chapter, as if this were the purpose of the story; this is ironic because the focus on elderly sexuality wasn’t required and contributed nothing to the plot. Even in a romance novel, sex is an important event marker, indicating a change in a protagonist’s view of their situation. That wasn’t the case here. It was gratuitous, but at least it wasn’t explicit.

The author should have been a poet. I was impressed by their use of words I had to look up, many of them used incorrectly (according to my understanding of Merriam’s on-line dictionary). And I was envious of their talent for turning a mundane event like sunrise into a metaphor that captured the moment perfectly in my imagination. However, they went way over the top in using metaphors (especially cliches), sometimes using similes (introduced by “like” or “as”) three times in a single sentence. Give me a break! An author has to sometimes forgo the cheap shot, but not King; no opportunity to interject a truism wrapped in a metaphor into a scene was skipped, often to the detriment of the plot.

This could have been a good story (it is rather short and redundant), or expanded into a real novel by exploring some of the characters who were suddenly introduced to fulfill their purpose. Instead the author chose not to look at their first draft and fix it, leaving an unsuspecting reader in the lurch.

This is an example of why there needs to be some quality control on self-publishing. I don’t have a solution in mind, but maybe Amazon could develop a grammar checker (at least) to prevent half-finished manuscripts (lacking periods for god’s sake!) from slipping into the literary world.

Don’t read this…

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