Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review: A Burden To The Earth

Read 8/31/11 - 9/7/11
4 Stars - Strongly Recommend
Pgs: 279

TNBBC is breaking new ground! I had an opportunity to beta read Michael J. Sullivan's manuscript A Burden to the Earth. The pre-edited, unpublished book found it's way to me during a break in the action at the 2011 Indie Book Event (IBE) that took place in NYC this past July.

Michael's wife, Robin, was sitting front row in the audience at the event. Though I had never met her in person before IBE, we have quite the history together. Robin is a long time member of the TNBBC goodreads group. After the initial Hi, so great to finally meet you's, Robin and I discussed her publishing company and the authors she represents. Conversation eventually turned to her husband, who is enjoying his success as a sci-fi writer. Unlike his Riyria  books, she informed me that the book he had just finished writing was literary fiction, which is a new genre for him. She asked if I would be interested in giving her and her husband some feedback on it. Once she delivered the elevator pitch, I couldn't say no.

The book focuses on Elliot, a forty year old man, single and still living at home with his mother, who harbors a hatred for a world that he feels left him behind. Very much wishing things were still as simple as they were when he was growing up, Elliot struggles to adjust and adapt to life in the 1990's. Always a bit obsessive over women - he still has the unopened bottle of Coke that a girl he crushed on in middle school had given him and stalks the cute waitress who humors him with conversation at the Fox Den -  he damages the only friendships he has when he finds out that the two people he cares most about, Rachel and Randy, have begun dating behind his back. In his mind, their friendship is no longer equal and he nearly loses his mind after Rachel refuses to give into his demands that she pay him the same "attention" she does Randy.

Beta reading, while exciting to be one of the first few to see a book before it passes into the hands of the publishers, can also be a frustratingly long and tedious job. Reading between the lines in search of character development, pace, and overall story arc is fun. Discovering grammatical and structural errors and communicating the adjustments, removals, and recommendations - not so much. I found more of my time was spent typing up the edits than reading the actual content. And this is where I think beta reading works for me, and where it might not work for others. I know many a blogger who cannot STAND it when they come across a poorly edited sentence, let alone page, and don't get them started if it's poorly edited all the way through! Yes - it is important to know the difference between their, they're, and there. Yes - it is important to understand comma placement and how improperly placed commas can impact the performance of a sentence. And in a finished edition of the novel, those things are certainly much less acceptable, and reflect negatively on the author and editors for having let those things slip by. But in these early stages, with a manuscript or review ARC, I can see beyond all of that, into the meat of the story, and see the gem that is hidden beneath. Though, if I'm being honest, I have always been able to look past the typo's and still find nothing but love for the content. It's this ability to separate the two - the grammatical errors from the story's content and development - that allowed me to see this novel for what it really could be.

Exceptionally well paced, A Burden to the Earth delves into the flawed and fractured mind of a man who is frighteningly close to the edge of losing everything, including himself. As the cracks in his reasoning become more obvious and worrisome to others, in Elliot's mind things are simply starting to appear more clear. "Life is a joke God plays on people...", and Hell be damned, he has finally become tired of being God's little punch-line.

I thought Michael did Elliot a great deal of justice when he wrote him - there is so much wrong with Elliot that readers will find themselves wondering what is wrong with them for not loathing him. He is completely dependent on his mother for room, board, food, and conversation and hates himself for it. His friends and family see him for what he is, and he hates them for it. Yet, we all know someone with some of the same qualities, don't we? Just a little too obsessed with a new girl he has just met, just a little too easy going within small groups of friends when things are going fine but then just a little too mopey when things don't work out the way he anticipated, a bit of an over-reactor to change.... There is something creepily familiar about Elliot... and therein lies the rub.

When you've finally had enough of feeling like you're always pulling the short straw, to what lengths would you go to show people you've had enough?

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