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A Review of a Book That Will Remain Anonymous

I read a book earlier this week that was in such need of a rewrite that I really want to post a long, eviscerating review.  But that's a pissy Internet thing to do and I don't want to be an asshole, so I'm going to approach this a little bit differently and preserve the author's anonymity.

For the purposes of this review, I'm going to pretend that the book is called A Good Day to Die, and we'll pretend that the author's name is "Jason Redman."

The blurb for people who don't like to read actual criticism:

A Good Day to Die is an amateurish work marred by grammatical errors, devastating thematic and structural problems, one-dimensional characters, and painful dialogue.  It's obviously an early draft - perhaps even the first draft - that was released without much - or perhaps any - input.  I would hazard a guess that it was written as part of a NaNoWriMo from years past, except that at 33,000 words it doesn't qualify.

My Rating: 1 / 5

The longer bit for people who like literary discussion:

Earlier this week I reviewed a terrific self-published book that became such a success that the author was able to secure a book deal from one of Amazon's imprints.  So I guess it's fitting that today I'm going to dip my toes in the other extreme.

A Good Day to Die is almost a novel analogue to The Room.  I'm tempted to just link directly to the product on Amazon in order to give the world a chance to experience the failure firsthand.

Then a more sympathetic part of me wells up and I get the feeling that the author is some teenager who has only just recently started to take his craft a little more seriously.  I could easily see myself having written the book eighteen or so years ago and wanting to share it with the world, and I could easily see myself being crushed by the heartless cynicism of sniveling douchebags who would write hyperbolic nonsense reviews.

Hey, Internet!  Maybe you can get the annoying shit who does "The Nostalgia Critic" to do that instead.  Yeah, he could gawk into a camera and make a punch-face while he screams, "Wha wha WHA?!"  And maybe he could act out a couple of scenes using only props that he found under his sink.  That's pretty clever, isn't it, you fucking twat?  It's easy to make a career on the Internet if you're only trying to appeal to morons.

Sorry, I think I might be experiencing some repressed issues here.  Let me back up.

The point is that A Good Day to Die is bad.  Really, really bad.  It's an awfully written story that manages to indulge in every cliche bit of Writer's Advice you can think of.  Telling without showing?  Check.  Over-reliance on adverbs?  Check.  Over-enthusiastic use of synonyms for "said?" Check.

Repetitive word choice?  Check.

But it's also got some signs of promise.  A few of the ideas could actually work in more skilled hands and it's clearly a product of passion.  I don't want to be the jerk who starts pointing and laughing and end up ruining Mr. Redman's dreams - I'd rather just give him some advice, and maybe if I can do so anonymously, I can help out some other amateur writers as well.

AGDtD is the story of Mort, a mortician, and his cousin Harry, a postal worker, who have a series of misadventures that involve various love interests and get-rich-quick schemes.  I wish I could give you a better summary, but that's really just a segue to the first major problem with the plot: there isn't one.

The story is framed as if it's going to be a dark comedy about a murder and the way the two protagonists try to handle it / cover it up.  But then a pivotal character dies and... nothing really happens.  Harry just gets drunk and then he and Mort have a few aimless conversations.  Eventually there's some business involving a psychic who may or may not be a love interest for one or both of the cousins, and the psychic has a dog who bites Harry, and this may or may not be significant, and then later there's a murder plot going on in the background.

The thing is, until around the point where the death happens, I was still convinced that the book might actually have momentum.  So even though the writing style was not very good, I was thinking, I'll give it a shot.  Maybe something interesting happens later.  I was a third of the way through without any inciting action and I was still hopeful that it might get better.

Which tells me something.  Bad style is certainly not good, but bad structure?  That's just hopeless.  You can tell a story poorly, but as long as it actually is a story - or at least as long as people think there is a story - your reader will hang on.  Readers like me, anyway.

So here's my advice to Mr. Redman, and to all the other NaNoWriMo participants who may be thinking of dumping their recent opuses on Amazon: Use a formula.  I don't care if it seems bland, I don't care if you want to rock the system with your originality, I don't care if you think it's too hard.  Just use a formula.  When you have a strong voice later, then you can start messing with it.

The thing is, AGDtD is set up for half a dozen different formulaic plots that would all have worked well.  It could have been a comedy of errors about how Harry and Mort have to hide a dead body.  It could have been a Frankenstein parody where Mort reveals that he has been experimenting on reanimating corpses.

For that matter, why not play to the novel's opening conceit?  In the first chapter, Mort reveals his latest scheme: "Death insurance."  The idea is that if you are incorrectly pronounced dead and you suffer hardship - e.g., you get buried alive - then you can get a payout to alleviate the distress of your life.  It's a silly idea, but it's also the most clever part of the book and it seems significant.

What if Mort's Death Insurance business takes off, but then somebody tries to cash in on a policy and he can't afford to pay out?  In order to keep his business thriving, he has to murder the policyholder.  You even have a built-in sort of defense mechanism where Mort's victim(s) has already been pronounced dead, so it takes suspicion away from him.  The perfect crime, right?

Why not just make that the thrust of the novel?  Mort's business takes off and Harry reluctantly helps him because he recently lost his fiancee and he has nothing left to live for.  In the second act he can meet a love interest so that by the third act turn he has a reason for hope.  Then Harry realizes he needs to stop Mort from murdering any more beneficiaries.

There you go, Redman.  I just gave you a plot.  Write it.

The bit wherein I reflect on my own failures:

It's easy for somebody like me to make fun of another person's work or find fault with it.  And I would love to say something like "Redman shouldn't have released this to the Internet."  I definitely think it needs to be revised heavily before it can be considered any good.

Then I think about my own writing career and I realize that I'm still so far behind the place where I want to be.  So, Mr. Redman, if you end up finding out that this review is about you and your work, and if you feel disheartened or discouraged, then you can at least take comfort in this:

I have read your novel.  You have not read mine.