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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Interesting blog review of An Age of Madness

Okay so it's not a rave by any means, although the reviewer does say some nice things along the lines of

"I was worried about a male author writing a convincing female lead, and I think Mr. Maine has done a great job with that"

as well as

"while I normally don't like unreliable narrators, I understand why he did it, and I think he pulled it off very well"

But she also has some reservations about the tone of the book -- ie, it's too depressing -- as well as the back cover copy, which she feels misrepresents the story. As far as tone goes, yeah, this is probably my most depressing book. Guilty as charged. It's a pretty dark story about some pretty dark stuff, and once I went there, I wasn't about to get out of it too easily. So okay, if that's not your thing, then I can understand that.

I actually find her criticism of the cover copy more interesting, as she makes the claim that

"unlike the back cover copy, I am not going to intentionally mislead you in order to not give away a spoiler. Don't read that copy. It's bad in that you will think you're about to read a very different kind of book"

I find this interesting because I helped to write the copy (most writers do, I think), and thought I did an okay job. Apart from a series of questions that sketch out the basic parameters of the main character, Regina, the copy pretty much consists of one sentence: "An Age of Madness peels back the layers of Regina's psyche in a voice that is brash, bitter, and blackly humorous, laying bare her vulnerabilities while drawing the reader unnervingly close to this memorable heroine."

I can understand the reservation someone might have about the word "heroine;" Regina is many things but she is probably nobody's idea of a heroine. But she is the novel's main character and narrator, so it seems fair enough to characterize her in this way. Someone else might say the book is too grim to be considered "humorous," even if it's "blackly humorous." But I don't think so; there any number of passages that make me giggle, or even laugh out loud, and I've given enough readings to know that audiences tend to respond the same way.

This brings us to the blurbs from other writers -- Stuart Archer Cohen, Natalie Danford and Jincy Willett, all of whom were kind enough to read the manuscript and commit their praise to print. Everybody says very kind things and they say them memorably. Maybe Stuart's final comment, that the novel is "intriguing and uplifting," would throw some people. I do think there's a good deal of resolution and forward movement by the end of the story, but I can understand why some readers would not find the book "uplifting." It's a pretty sad story, I'll cop to that, and I do my best to avoid pat answers and by-the-numbers "redemption," which has been a buzzword for years now that basically indicates a happy ending.

Anyway I find the blogger's comments interesting, because they raise all kinds of questions about our expectations of a book, and of the description of the book that -- like it or not -- most of us still use in determining whether or not we're going to read something. This is the first time a reviewer has ever commented on the jacket copy of one of my stories, and it makes me wonder about books that I've read that perhaps didn't mesh with the expectations that I had. Were my expectations fed by the jacket description? Quite likely.

No great conclusions here, just food for thought.

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