The more self-published books I read, the more despondent I get over the state of what now appears to pass for “writing” in general. With some (OK, most) of these books, you are sometimes forced to wonder if it isn’t a case of reader bias brought about by shoddy packaging. It seems that it would go without saying for a self-publisher to go out of his way to make sure that he spends just as much effort on the design and layout of his novel as he has supposedly spent on writing the prose. But as any of us who has ever picked up a self-pubbed book knows, many (OK, most) self-published books have apparently had covers merely slapped on them, straight up monstrosities that are less than afterthoughts. I could vomit a Thursday night’s worth of Calcutta Margaritas onto an already colorful assortment of carpet swatches and then have a narcoleptic professional Helen Keller impersonator randomly “select” (through a series of helpful hand-on-hand sign language indications, accompanied by a few light face smacks—you know, for the narcolepsy) one of those puke-soaked swatches, run said swatch through one of those computers self-published book cover factories must use to “jazz up” their covers, and my self-published book cover contribution would still be more entertaining and indicative of the book’s contents than 90% (OK, 85%) of the self-published book covers out there.
All that being said, the cover on G.M. Weger’s East Garrison is by far one of the best covers I have ever seen on a self-pubbed book. When this novel showed up in my mailbox I was nearly ecstatic. It seemed that I was finally being shown the good graces of the SPR book review gods after my last go-round went horribly awry.
But, alas, book review gods’ grace was not to be. Looks, after all, can be deceitful or whatever the cliché is. Conniving? Both. I’ll say that the evocative cover and overall detail-attentive design of this book carried me pretty thoroughly through the first 30 pages of East Garrison. Weger carefully laid out the main characters of her novel: a cop, his 30-something pregnant wife, her estranged father, and her helpful—though physically deformed—friend. I wouldn’t even mention the physical deformity of the friend if it wasn’t so often (inexplicably) alluded to within the text. The intoxicating allure of this novel’s cover was too quickly overcome to a large degree by the wooden prose, the bizarre subject matter and the overall boring nature of the story itself.
Sally came out of the lab. She was a petite girl with shiny black hair pulled back into a neat clip. “How’re you doing today?” Her small cool hands gripped Tracy’s meaty palm, slipped the blood pressure cuff expertly over her upper arm, and Velcroed it snugly. She stuck Tracy’s forearm under her armpit with practiced firmness and put the head of her stethoscope just under the edge of the cuff, slightly above the crease of her elbow. She held it there with her thumb, put the ear pieces of the stethoscope into her ears, and began briskly squeezing the fist-sized inflatable bulb. The cuff started to swell until Tracy felt her arm being squeezed to a mildly uncomfortable level. As always, she thought this must be what it was like to be constricted to death. Sally opened the valve on the air pump slightly to let off pressure while she watched the gauge. After a minute, she opened the air valve completely and removed the cuff.
For any aliens having just arrived on earth, residents of Botswana or children under the age of 6 reading this, you now know what it is like to have your blood pressure taken. I don’t mean to sound glib or flippant (OK, perhaps I do), but too often, overly descriptive, banal, second-by-second recounting is often misconstrued for careful, thought-provoking prose that under the hand of the best scribes will elicit far more emotional resonance with a reader than could ever be rendered through sheer word-count alone. Read any of the better John Updike available to see just what I mean.
There just isn’t enough here for a book. The back cover description says it all: “All Tracy Dade wants is to deliver a healthy baby and be a good mother, but she fears her unhealthy relationship with her father [who, I should note, she hasn’t seen or talked to in years] will sabotage her ability to have a normal life. She decides reconciling with him is her only hope…In her way stands acres of land polluted with unexploded ordnance, an overprotective husband, a dangerous predator stalking the base, and her own stubborn heart. With her labor just hours away, she’s running out of time.” My thirteen year old son asked me what book I was reviewing. I handed it to him. He read this description and said, “How is that the basis for a whole book? She’s gonna try to make up with her dad with her labor just hours away?” Out of the mouths of babes…something something something something, as the wise person once said.
It should be noted, though, that this book has completely flawless punctuation. I don’t recall a single typo. I don’t know if this is the doing of the author or her book packaging company, Synergy Books, but it should be noted nonetheless. This is not to say that Weger doesn’t have some good ideas for a story, because this book definitely had moments of inspiration among the clutter—see many of the passages mixing the characters’ waking lives with their dreams, or nightmares, as the case most often is here—but all in all, there just isn’t enough of that shining prose. We are bombarded with completely inauthentic dialog, scene after scene of illogical situations for these characters to confront, as well as a diaspora of religious ideals that could only come from a place like California in “origin.” Throw in a thoroughly disgusting two-page account of placenta eating, and a VERY questionable defense of the swastika, and you have a book that could have only been dreamed up in the cultural wasteland that California has come to be known for. But at least it’s not Florida.
*New Frank Daniels review feature: the favorite sentence*
*Wherein Frank Daniels chooses one sentence or short paragraph or maybe a few sentences that don’t necessarily make up an entire paragraph but nonetheless form a completed thought.
“Tracy rubbed her taut belly and thought about the day she would have a new baby. Her very first. She never believed it would happen, especially over the age of thirty and [after] all those abortions.”