I’m not trying to be mean or difficult. I’m not trying to pick on the work of other writers. So when I start another review for a book that I’m critical of, I want to make that clear from the beginning – that’s not my goal. I love reading, and I love discovering authors I’ve never read before. There’s a joy in that, something that other readers can attest to I’m sure.
But…there are going to be hits and misses. And not all books resonate with everyone in the same way. So here we go, discussing Somebody I Used To Know by David Bell…
First, let me share with you the description of the novel:
When Nick Hansen sees the young woman at the grocery store, his heart stops. She is the spitting image of his college girlfriend, Marissa Minor, who died in a campus house fire twenty years earlier. But when Nick tries to speak to her, she acts skittish and rushes off.
The next morning the police arrive at Nick’s house and show him a photo of the woman from the store. She’s been found dead, murdered in a local motel, with Nick’s name and address on a piece of paper in her pocket.
Convinced there’s a connection between the two women, Nick enlists the help of his college friend Laurel Davidson to investigate the events leading up to the night of Marissa’s death. But the young woman’s murder is only the beginning…and the truths Nick uncovers may make him wish he never doubted the lies.
Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? That’s what I thought and why I was happy to receive a free on-line version of the novel from Penguin Group in exchange for an honest review. I was looking forward to reading this new work from an accomplished and well-reviewed author I had never read before. And…
Well, it’s not bad. It was a good idea for a story and…the execution was simply flawed. Maybe it’s because it was the non-final version and there are edits that were yet to be made to this version. I hope that’s the case. Because I was incredibly distracted by certain, fixable aspects of the book.
The beginning of the novel is filled with short, choppy sentences, leading the reader to feel like this was written for a younger audience. I even wondered for a moment if this was a book for middle-grade children rather than adults. Characters were described in overly simple physical descriptions, they all used far too many cliches when they spoke to each other, and everyone seemed to have to spell out everything to everyone like a group of formal little morons who couldn’t put two and two together without the large cross of an addition sign halfway between them. “…oh I see. You’re being sarcastic,” as one character tells another.
And, while I am usually led to reading (and writing) in 1st person, I think this author could possibly have been better served by writing in 3rd. His main character tells us everything rather than letting us see anything that’s unfolding. “Show, don’t tell” is one of the oldest axioms in writing, and it was ignored completely in this novel. And the main character seems like a weird little guy who knows some other weird people who all speak alike. So no character stands out from another by anything other than their name.
The novel does get somewhat better as it goes, leading me to believe tha some serious work and editing could make this a strong novel in the end. But, even while the tempo picks up, and more of the mystery is revealed (though I have to say there are no real surprises), everything is revealed by characters telling each other everything. It makes for a less than enjoyable read, even while the overall concept is a good one.
We all live in the past to some extent. We all have events from younger days that have impacted us and either led us to where we are, or perhaps stagnated our progress throughout life. We can all relate to wondering “What if…?” and think about alternate versions of how things could have turned out if only… And we’ve all made mistakes. The premise of this novel isn’t crazy or extreme. And you can put yourself into the situations that the characters have found themselves in. That’s something important in writing a successful story. And because that’s there in this one, I do feel like it’s redeemable. It’s a good idea that just needs the author to spend some more quality time with it. And characters who are okay with giving up some control over telling everyone everything that’s happened and is happening around them. And I wish them luck.
But for now, I think I’ll hesitate Before picking up a new book to try and find something else to do to mentally split from the experience. Hey, it’s rained every day for the past week and a half and the ground’s soggy out there. Good day for finding Bigfoot tracks, right?