I’m a fan of dysfunction. Dysfunctional relationships and dysfunctional families make for the best stories. Or maybe just the ones that I relate to the best.
I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t have high expectations from this novel though. I thought that I was probably getting a poor-man’s Jonathan Tropper at best, or a poor re-tread of other stories that have dealt with the same issues and family dynamics. But, I’ll admit that I was wrong. And I’m glad that I took the chance.
Here’s a short description of the novel by James Bailey – one that I received free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review –
Ten years ago, C.J. Neubauer fled his family, trading coasts to provide himself three time zones of buffer space. Random email and social media posts yield all the contact he needs. Until a late-night phone call from his wistful father. Unaccustomed to hearing his dad say “I love you,” C.J. freezes, vowing instead to reciprocate the next time they speak. But when the phone wakes him the following morning, it’s his older brother informing him their father has committed suicide.
Sporting a nagging conscience and a chip on his shoulder, C.J. books a flight home on his girlfriend’s credit card. All he wants is to bury his father and try to make sense of what led him to take his own life. All he has to go on is a note that reads, “Sorry I wasn’t what you needed.” Was it intended for C.J. and his siblings? The mother who walked out on them twenty-five years ago? Or someone else altogether?
Maybe I can relate well to a character who’s made sure to be so physically distant from his family. The character who only finds dysfunction when finally being reunited with family after years apart. But I like my dysfunctional characters/narrators to be a little less loser-ish, or at least to be a little more willing to accept his/her issues and want to improve on some level. C.J. isn’t really like that, and yet I still found myself impressed by this novel. The dysfunction made sense, the characters’ issues balanced each other out and went well to tell the story. In fact, I was even thinking of giving the novel 5 out of 5 as a final rating. But then…..
Some people can do endings. Some can’t. And this one was just far too frustrating for me. The main character seems to become more of a loser the more you learn about him, and there doesn’t seem to be any real attempt at growth. Then, the relationship between him and his girlfriend is never explained and, consequently, it never makes any sense. And then, the word that comes to mind in wrapping up the final chapter? Oedipal. And that’s not good.
Something clicked with me on this novel, I’ll admit it. I didn’t like the main character, but the story pulled me along and kept me reading. It just feels so odd to like a book that much more while I was reading it than I did when I was finished. And to know that I won’t have any desire to pick it up again in a few years and want to read it again. So I feel torn. I’d recommend it, but not enthusiastically. I’d give it a 4 out of 5 but not consider it one of the better reads I’ve had. So I walk away from it a little dizzy and confused.
But maybe that’s what dysfunction is supposed to do to you – leave you feeling a bit off. I just don’t really care what would happen next to these characters. Instead, it gets me thinking about my own writing. I want to delve deeper into my own characters I’m writing about to ensure my future readers feel a deeper attachment to them, a sense of comradery with them, and an ability to laugh at them through their messed up attempts to better themselves.
So it’s time for me to move away from reading someone else’s creation and get back to work!