Monday, August 1, 2011
My Mother, The Lycanthrope
Author: W.W. Lengeman
Publisher: Self-published (via Smashwords)
(Review copy provided by the author)
When dealing with a self-published novel, there's always a 500-pound question lurking in the room: "Why couldn't this novel find a publisher?" There are a number of possible valid answers. Maybe the genre is in a slump, or the industry expects it to go into a slump soon. Maybe it's too edgy or controversial for the big boys. (Not as common as you'd think; controversy sells.) Maybe the author's new, and doesn't have the right combination of writing skill, networking skill, marketing skill, and luck to get it through the system. Maybe he does, but the recession has hit him hard and he needs money now, rather than the year or two it will take to get a book to shelf in the old model. Or, maybe the author prefers the self-publishing model. Maybe he thinks it'll give him a better profit margin, or he wants full creative freedom, or he's got an impulse to stick it to the man. All too often, however, it's something far simpler -- and more depressing -- then any of these: the book just isn't good enough.
Our heroine is Leigh Trinkett, sixth-grader. Her father runs a small store, her mother keeps house. She lives a relatively normal suburban life with her parents, grandfather, annoying little brother, and grandpa's pet cow, Jerry. Her best friend Ashley is a school soccer star, training Leigh to make the team. All pretty normal. But recently, weird stuff's been happening. Leigh starts having strange nightmares about riding the school bus with sheep and fleeing from wolves in the woods. She also notices hints that there's more to her mother than meets the eye. Not having the benefit of a convenient title page to clue her in to what's going on, Leigh embarks on a 140 page adventure to Solve This Mystery. Spoiler: Her mother's a lycanthrope.
Let's make this a quick cut rather than a torturously slow one: this book should never have been written. Or, perhaps more accurately: the material should have been written, then cut out entirely in revision. It's not worthwhile reading. In fact, it's tedious and pointless in the extreme.
I am not talking about the book's quality. It does have some severe quality issues: there are typos, awkward phrasings, the occasional continuity flub, and the characters have a habit of laughing in situations where it is not appropriate. But none of those is the real problem. The book has no purpose. My Mother, The Lycanthrope is marketed as the first book of a trilogy, which means it's supposed to set things up. But it should also tell a story by itself. It shouldn't just put off everything for the next volume, and it certainly shouldn't give us a pile of virtual pages in which nothing ever happens.
I'm not talking about Trilogy Syndrome. No, My Mother, The Lycanthrope has an even more extreme affliction: it's a Backstory Story. It's made up entirely of semi-relevant information the reader might find useful to read the story. Everything of real importance in this book occurs in the last 20 pages. The preceding 120 are a mess of exposition rating at various points on the Show Don't Tell meter, interspersed between meaningless filler. A lot of meaningless filler. There is so much padding in here it's embarrassing. Grandpa has a mild stroke and has to go to the hospital, but no major plot events result. Mr. Trinkett has a big sale to try and save his store from bankruptcy, but it doesn't mean anything. We learn Ashley's parents are getting divorced, and the whole matter passes with a shrug.
Through all this Leigh is trying to unravel the central mystery, but said mystery generates no tension because the answer is right there in the title. Generate suspense with it is thus a fool's errand. It starts to look like the kind of book you got out of Goosebumps when R.L. Stine was under deadline pressure and phoned it in. We don't even get the final, Twilight Zone style twist. Since My Mother, The Lycanthrope is the first of a series, it instead wraps up with an annoying cliffhanger. After a few pages of expository dialogue. The end result is a bunch of pointless build-up leading to an equally pointless cop-out.
The author seems to be holding out for a trilogy, keeping all the interesting ideas for later. I've seen this approach before, and it rarely works. The first volume has to convince the reader to want the next one. Having read My Mother, The Lycanthrope, I am not convinced. The author's spent 140 pages boring me with tedious scene-setting and filler, and thus I don't care about what happens next.
This book, in short, should not have been a book. It should have been cut down to those last 20 pages, with the rest retooled or dropped entirely, and become the first 3-4 chapters of a book that told the story. The concept here isn't great, but it's serviceable, and with some effort it could have been a good read. But instead it meanders fruitlessly, and the resulting experience is dull and insubstantial. What a waste.