Friday, April 28, 2006

How about a book review?

I love books, and read more than is probably healthy for a man who still has a fully functioning sex drive...

Occasionally I review a book for the paper. Usually I review books that are of local interest (by a local author, or set in St. Augustine, etc.), but occasionally I review other books. I reviewed John Irving's Until I Find You because I disagreed with the reviews it got in the national press. I reviewed Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner as part of the St. Johns Reads program (our library sponsored reading group), and now I've reviewed Ray Wong's The Pacific Between because I'd followed the book from completion to publication and wanted to see what Ray's pen had wrought. Those of you who have asked me for critiques know I'm a straight shooter, and this review is no exception. Without further ado...

The Pacific Between - a promising debut novel from writer Ray Wong

Greg Lockland has problems. He never developed an adult relationship with his father, and now his father and mother are dead. If that isn't enough to lock Greg into some serious generation X angst, now he's found a stack of letters from a girl he left behind years ago - love letters - addressed to his father. Greg's subsequent journey to adulthood and self-discovery begins with a trip across the Pacific Ocean to his native Hong Kong in search of his childhood sweetheart and answers about her relationship, and his own, with his father.

Ray Wong is a talented writer, and the first few chapters of The Pacific Between is so deeply emotional and personal that it is almost embarrassing to read. You get the sense that Greg Lockland carries a lot of his author's emotional baggage onto the page, and if not, kudos to Ray for creating such an emotionally raw character. I certainly hope Greg is more creation than autobiography, because while Greg Lockland is an engaging character, he's not very likeable. He's a thirty-year-old man who thinks and behaves like a fourteen-year-old spoiled brat. He's selfish, and self-absorbed, and watching him stumble through his life, trampling mindlessly on the feelings of the people he is supposed to care about, is fascinating, but only in the same way watching a train wreck would be.

Wong creates ample tension in the opening chapters of his book, leading us to believe that Greg's quest to find his childhood sweetheart, Lian, will coincide with his quest to find in himself the man he never grew up to be. Unfortunately, at mid-book all the tension disappears, and for several chapters you are left wondering just where the story is going. To be honest, Wong almost lost me. If it weren't for all the promise I thought he showed in the early chapters, I probably would have put this book down and walked away, but I stayed with it, and I recommend you do the same.

I believe the real test of a first author's ability can be judged at the end of his debut novel. By then, the writer has found the confidence to tell his readers what he really wants to say, and, if he has any talent, he has found the voice he wants to say it with. The end of The Pacific Between is like the rising crescendo in Bolero - getting faster, louder, and bolder as it clips along. By the end, I understood the courage it took to create a character as flawed as Greg Lockland. A lesser writer would have made Greg more likeable, less petulant, and lost the inherent truth encapsulated in the character's flaws. I think Ray Wong has shown us that this is just the beginning of what will be a long literary career. The Pacific Between is available in trade paperback from Behler Publications,, and may be purchased at all major book retailers.

If you want me to review your book, you need to know three things:

1) I'm not an arts editor. Book reviews are behind the back burner, in the recipe box. Your book may be out of print before I get to it.

2) If your book stinks, I might not even finish it. It's hard to write a review on a book you didn't finish reading.

3) I'll call it the way I see it. It doesn't matter if I know you, like you, or am sleeping with you. I don't owe you a PR piece - I owe my readers an honest review.

If you still ain't skeert, brang it on.

Mark Pettus,
Friday, April 28, 2006

7 comments so far. Thank you, Blogger JLB, Anonymous jamie ford, Blogger S. W. Vaughn, Blogger Jeff, Blogger Bernita, Blogger Dorothy, Blogger Mayden's Voyage,

Let me know what you think

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at 10:12 PM Blogger JLB said...

I enjoyed your review - it's hit my list of "books to read"!

at 11:56 PM Anonymous jamie ford said...

Thanks for the review. I'm always interested in books by Chinese authors.

at 2:16 PM Blogger S. W. Vaughn said...

Yeah, how 'bout a book review? :-)

If I ever have a book to be reviewed (grrr, stupid hurricanes interrupting my print run), I ain't skeert. In fact, I love being ripped.

And I like your review style. Honesty rocks! So I'll warn you that if I ever have a book, I just might take you up on this offer to maybe review my book that might actually achieve printed form some day...

at 3:28 PM Blogger Jeff said...

As soon as my first novel is released you're more than welcome to write a review, Mark.
Keep your spurs and pencils sharpened, pardner. :)

at 12:34 PM Blogger Bernita said...

I like that: "I owe my readers an honest review."

at 11:27 PM Blogger Dorothy said...

Just found your blog tonight. Love that picture at the top and, no, I'm not suckering you up to review my book...hmmmm....on the other do look rather nice tonight...;o)

at 4:02 PM Blogger Mayden's Voyage said...

Have you ever done anything with the Southeastern Writers Association? I have signed up to go to a workshop in June and have sent 2 manuscripts in to be looked over.
It will be held on St Simons Island in the very least, the location is reason enough to go! :)


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