Writer: Jen Neale
Publishing House: ECW Press
Date of Publication:May 8th 2018
Rating: 3 stars
‘’The bones were gone. Only the outline of fur remined. Even the dislodged claws had been collected. Julie looked around as though the culprit might be right there.’’
The sea is like a dream. It’s said that life began there and our course on the Earth starts in the water. It’s only natural that this is a place where tales are born. Tales of the past and stories of our present times dedicated to the sea that gives life but also has the power to take it away. This novel blurs the lines between life and death, between the present and the past but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Julie returns to her hometown to support Marty, her father, who fought in the Gulf War and whose memories haunt his every step.When a strange woman arrives claiming to have a past that connects her to Marty, Julie begins to struggle with the truth and the secrets of her father. Meanwhile, death makes his presence known in the form of dead animals, believed to have committed suicide. So, this is a dark story that may sound weird- and it is- but the premise is very interesting.
Neale decides to tackle a number of themes in her work. From the deep bond between a man and a dog to the intense presence of the past in our daily lives and the slow but certain surrender to grief as a result of PTSD. It is a story that wants to appear heavy in symbolisms, to become a part of the tradition of Literary Fiction but, in my opinion, it just tries too hard. The themes of suicide and PTSD are closely linked but I am not sure whether the writer managed to insert them successfully into the plot.
The writing is too restrained, almost lukewarm, given the premise. The plot is engaging but the dialogue isn’t equally satisfying. I don’t think that the constant cursing can be considered ‘Literary’. Not when there are two F-bombs every other paragraph, not when we intentionally missing auxiliaries, subjects and pronouns. And no, this isn’t the teacher talking, it’s the truth. The plot deserved a more constructed, thoughtful, poetic language. On the bright side, there isn’t any hint of melodrama and cheap sensationalism in sight, which is always something I appreciate. Magical Realism is present but it feels forced, even misplaced. For example, the information regarding urban legends about animals were very interesting but they felt insignificant. An excuse for surreal snippets that offered little to the narration.
The characters gave me a bit of trouble, to be honest. I couldn’t bring myself to care for their fortune all that much. Marty is an interesting man and his struggles bring the novel a whole level up. Julie is also sympathetic and I liked her straightforward manner, although her development over the course of the action was subpar. However, this JLL creature is such a despicable, foul-mouthed, disgusting figure that completely and utterly destroyed the story for me. Call me overreacting but low quality situations and, most importantly, low quality people is something I cannot stand.
This is a dark read that had every potential to be memorable but fell short in the end. The writing couldn’t make the premise attractive. In my opinion, the writer lacked the kind of language that elevates sad, haunting stories into greatness. I recommend the novel, though. I tend to overanalyze certain things and you may find significance where I couldn’t. It is not a bad book per se but it had every potential to be exceptional and ended up being just average.
Many thanks to ECW Press and Edelweiss for the ARC in exchange of an honest review.