Friday, July 24, 2009

"Jericho's Fall", by Stephen L. Carter

This is perhaps the worst book that I have ever tried to read.

Here's the story. Handed a 15% discount coupon for Barnes and Noble that needed to be used immediately, I hustled off to the local store to browse. In the new fiction section there was "Jericho's Fall" an attractive looking hardcover with a 20% discount that could be combined with our 10% members discount and the additional mentioned 15%. The back cover had unequivocal and reasonably intelligent sounding praise from the Washington Post, the New York Times Book Review, and the Wall Street Journal, among others, for the author's previous three works of fiction. Inside the jacket cover I see that he's some sort of distinguished Yale Law School professor with a bunch of legal books published as well. On the cover some dingleberry writer named Lincoln Child is quoted in bold type saying "the best espionage novel I've come across in twenty years". I'm in, hook, line, and sinker, buying into this marketing hoax.

Back at home, just a few pages into the book, I began to feel as if I'd chosen to go to a movie because Pete Hammond of Maxim or Peter Travers of Rolling Stone is quoted in the blurbs as saying something like "the best thrill ride of the summer" or "you won't be able to catch your breath". That's how stupid I felt, really dumb.

Perhaps Professor Carter's other books are much better. Or perhaps with his Yale connections he just has an inside track for poor and hopelessly cliched writing. Perhaps this is an effort to hit the big time, a stab at the big money by designing a book that might be dumbed down enough to get best seller status, attract buyer's of film rights, off to screenplay land and out of staid New Haven finally. No sin in that but just don't pull a total head fake in the sales process. In fact, I don't know what's going on here.

What I do know is that this book is almost impossible to read. After the immediate disgust post purchase, it was my decision to keep the damn thing, give it a fair chance, and try to understand what was going on, why such an accomplished individual would come up with such drek. I did my best but after forcing myself to read it for several days, today on page 246 of a 351 page book I closed it, done. I could not care less about what happens, how it resolves. It was as if an outline had been created for a story and then it was a labor of labors to fill in the blanks. This book was so disjointed and the opposite of seamless that after reading several chapters in an evening the next morning I would need to skim those same pages in order to remember what was going on.

The awkward writing and unlikely plot have interspersed within them occasional ubiquitous literary references designed to reward those who wish to think that the book is worthwhile. There are reliably sown "pearls of wisdom" from the protagonist, little hard core sayings about life that are cliched and meaningless but again are by design, to simulate of book of merit.

As to this Lincoln Child, where has he been. Has he not seen Alan Furst's fascinating 1990's work or Charles McCarry's work from the 70's to the 90's. He is either a complete fraud or he has been locked in a closet reading comics.

It has been said here before that reviews of books are only meant to be positive, that writing a book is an accomplishment that should not be taken lightly, that criticism should reflect what has been achieved or not be here at all. Obviously an exception has been made here. The advertising, the marketing, for this book just triggered a reaction. If some of Carter's previous fiction is in the local library I guess I'm now obligated to take a peek and see if this really is an aberration.

Buying the book ultimately was my choice, a gullible enthusiasm overcame common sense, and Knopf and Stephen L. Carter did a real gotcha on me.


Anonymous kf said...

This book is complete trash, but he has the right as does Knopf. The book will likely fail, and the professor's reputation will hit the skids. He doesn't have the formula for really bad writing, is that a compliment?

3:01 PM  

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