Reviewing Another Writer’s Work

It’s very difficult to review a friends work, and it’s awfully easy being honest reviewing a stranger’s work. However, I always like to look on the positive and emphasize it over the negatives when reviewing something…unless the negatives outweigh the positives.

Someone approached me on Shelfari and asked me to review their book. It took me about a month to finally finish it. It was only 170 pages long, including a cover page and a title page.

I questioned this lag. It’s exceptionally unusual for me to take this long reading something. I read hundreds of things in a day or more. Was it partially due to a very busy schedule? It was that, and the fact that  the book was slow-moving and became a difficult read. It was a fictional story about a family in New Orleans and the people they interact with–some of questionable character and health of mind–with most of the emphasis on the two children, a 16-year-old girl (the narrator) and a 19-year-old boy.

There were many opportunities where the writer could have cleaned up the narrative stream to tighten up the story, the characters, and the plot–I’m confused whether there was a plot. Some dialogue was narrated instead of used as dialogue. Some details emerged out of nowhere and were taken for granted when they did, instead of being incorporated into the storyline in dialogue or a description–and then some of these details weren’t even relevant to the story anyway.

There was a grittiness and confusion that made me ask myself whether this was stream of consciousness, the aura/environment the story took place in, or just haziness due to an organizational issue. I’m opting for the latter two.

This was also the first case I’ve come across where the narrator, one of the main characters, has very little personality that we can speak of — is the character just flat or is it flaky–a character flaw? What is this character’s motivation? Why do I feel like I’m seeing through here eyes without her really making much of an impact in the story? Why is everyone so self centered? You don’t buy in to self-centered, unlikable characters. Why do we get the feeling everyone is in abject poverty up until little details slip out every now and again that reveal these people have much more resources than we first thought?

You start questioning your understanding of the story. Is it me just not getting it or is it how the author drew it out, with too many holes? The camera moves us through scenery and events that I don’t feel I have a real stake in–either in understanding them or enjoying them. Not anymore. I just don’t care. When you lose the audience’s interest, when they stop caring about the characters or the plot, you’ve lost it all.

It’s troubling when you see potential just missed by thismuch. Lots of the areas I mentioned above could have been rewritten, tightenend up, or otherwise reworked to create a connecting thread, a writing style, and characters that worked together more neatly.

I couldn’t take it anymore so I replied to the author on Shelfari’s private message system that I couldn’t provide his book a positive review. And I apologized. I’m not sure why I apologized, I had to sit through the 170 pages. I saved any long explanations and just used those very simple words in two, concise sentences. Something I wish the book had more of.

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