Monday, October 14, 2013

Drew Reviews: The Preservationist

The Preservationist by Justin Kramon
2.5 Stars - Recommended Lightly
Pages: 336
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Release: October 10, 2013

Guest review by Drew Broussard 

The Short Version: Julia, a college freshman, mostly keeps to herself - there was a terrible accident the year before, for which she feels responsible, and her life has somewhat shattered because of it.  But her roommate likes to gossip and she meets a charming, if quiet boy in her music class and so she gets along pretty well - until she meets Sam, a man who works at a lunch place off-campus.  No one is quite who they seem and none of them will ever be the same after that fateful fall semester...
The Review: I really wish I didn't have to bring up Gone Girl in relation to this book - but I feel like that is, unfortunately, our lot as readers for the next few years at least.  That book, for better or worse (and I'd pick the former), has established itself as the surprise-blockbuster that now everyone wants to copy.  Which is not to say that this book copies it - but I don't know that we'd be reading The Preservationist without Gillian Flynn having found such success.  That said, the double cross and the unreliable narrator - especially in mysteries - are tropes as old as time, so maybe we would.  But it feels undeniably a kindred spirit and I think (again, for better or worse) this book suffers for the comparison.
First of all, it's written in that breathless style of modern thrillers - Dan Brown and Michael Crichton fans know what I'm talking about, with the short chapters that end with a cliffhanger that basically forces you to keep reading. There are three points of view here - Julia's, Marcus', and Sam's.  But Marcus only gets a few chapters to himself and most of the time he just seems a little weird - so I don't think it's a stretch to call Julia and Sam the main characters.  Things mostly flip back and forth between them and it's not hard to tell from the very get-go that something is definitely not right with Sam.  But then you also start to wonder if something is not right with Marcus.  And then there's even a further possibility dropped into the mix - and, I'll give Kramon this, the tension sure does rise.
I'm going to try to avoid spoilers - especially since this is an advance review - but it's hard to talk about a book like this, that depends so much on plot, without at least making overtures towards a few things.  For example, I think Kramon could've put together a stronger book had he not fallen back on clich├ęs and tropes at the end - if he'd, instead, followed up with the ", it couldn't be" possibility that he drops in our laps midway through and then ignores/gets bored with.  Because there's very little that is 'original' about this book.  These characters are all pretty stock-and-trade in today's fiction - down to the stupid main character, at whom you want to shout things like you would at a movie screen.  She does that level of stupid stuff.
Of course, here's the catch: this book is set at a rural college in central PA.  And, not to be terribly rude or anything, but I know plenty of people who went to rural colleges in central PA - and some of those girls, as freshmen, might well've done exactly what Julia does here.  Take that as you will, I suppose.
But anyway the thing is, even the quirks of characters like Sam feel highlighted, capitalized, drawn with the big brush.  I not only didn't care about any of them, particularly, but they did nothing to try and make me care about them.  The dialogue is flat most of the time, without any affect, and the quirks / Things That Happened in their pasts seemed almost entirely unnecessary, other than to provide Background and Explain Some Things About The Character In Question.  Look elsewhere for characters - the issue with this book comes down to plot.
Again, I'm not going to really go into things, plot-wise.  I'd rather be a good sport, especially considering the book's only just coming out now.  Did I flip through it pretty damn fast towards the end?  I did.  But did I feel anything, at all, when I put it down?  I did not.  I barely remember the characters' names and I finished the book less than an hour ago - that's how quickly it's all fading from my mind (and not due to any degenerative illness that might someday make me an unreliable narrator, although thank you for your concern).

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.  My issues with the writing aside, the book reads at a gallop and the end does get your heart racing a bit as the pot boils over.  But I just can't find anything that particularly distinguishes this book from any other in the genre, in any way.  By the time the subterfuge is revealed, you're pretty much saying "I told you so" and the book devolves into 75 or so pages of "now how's this all going to play out?" action - and your opinion of the book will most likely rely on whether or not you're looking for such a simple diversion, or if you're a fan of the genre anyway.
Drew Broussard reads, a lot. When not doing that, he's writing stories or playing music or acting or producing or coming up with other ways to make trouble.  He also has a day job at The Public Theater in New York City.

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