Bad writing. We all know it’s out there, and unfortunately the odds are that eventually it will end up landing in our lap. When it happens in a book I’m reviewing I have one of two options: can the read, or mention the fact in my review. I really don’t feel like I can do anything else. Sometimes it baffles me how certain levels of writing can make it through the publication gamut. I mean, I expected to find some as I strolled through the SPFBO, and I did, but some of it was also quite good. But when a book has gone through a publication house, it seems to me that there should be some base-minimum level of goodness that applies because if the book doesn’t sell any copies, the publishers don’t make any money. Although, a good friend of mine had her books picked up by a small publication house and she got just about zero editing help. So. What can one really expect?
JONESBRIDGE is the debut novel of one M.E. Parker and is published by Diversion Books. It’s a short book, which is probably one of the reasons why I didn’t end up absolutely hating it. You see, it wasn’t only the writing that had me looking for excuses to stop reading. The story itself was just as much a winner. And the world building? Yeah. Ouch.
The story is told in an apparently post-apocalyptic world where the enemy E’sters are trying to search out and destroy any not aligned with them. Myron has been forcibly conscripted into a labor force that, from what I could tell, sorts through tons and tons of scrap metal and garbage to find things of value for the war effort while hiding beneath a pall of perpetually replenished coal smoke. From early morn to deep dusk, he rummages through a conveyor belt full of refuse, sifting and sorting as expected, and occasionally comes across something that could be of use to him. In these cases, he’ll tie the scrap of whatever to an old fishing bobber, throw the pair into a nearby waste waterway, and then go searching for it after work where the waste water is dumped into the local river. And as doing so is strictly forbidden, you really don’t want to know where the guy keeps his fishing bob.
The point of Myron’s exercise is that he wants to escape the work camp. Torture, beatings, rape, and death come in rich supply there, where the work force is referred to as “slogs” and those in charge flaunt their power in the extreme. So, he’s building himself a hot air balloon, or at least something like it, at an off-site location he’s found a way to sneak off to. It was never very clear to me what this thing looked like. Just that it had been assembled over the course of many years, and the hot-air bag was being constructed of old pairs of women’s cotton underwear, threaded together with fine strings of burlap.
Still, Myron’s story is one that feels sympathetic. He’s oppressed. He’s searching for a way out. He’s actively working toward that goal. The world around him is bigger than just him. There’s a woman that he falls for, and they both work toward the goal of making their way out of this horrible situation that only has a very thin veneer of lies between the patriotic work camp the propaganda says it is and the forced-labor camp it very much acts like. The struggle of these two characters as they find some bit of goodness in this very dark world surrounding them can, at times, be something to cheer for. As he makes some progress toward his goal, he finds evidence of the world that has been lost and some hints as to what happened to bring it to the place it is.
There are pieces here of an interesting story. There’s just too little of anything else good for me to recommend it to anyone. The ending especially really turned me off. Not just because it was corny like most of the rest of the story, but because it went completely against everything that the main character had been built to hate and abhor; and because of that, it was a betrayal of the author’s promise to his readers to tell a satisfying story.
Plain and simple: avoid it.
- Recommended Age: 17+
- Language: Very mild
- Violence: Verbal abuse, some mild torture, several deaths
- Sex: Themes of rape with two somewhat graphic scenes