If you’ve been here recently you’ve seen my review of the first four chapters and the beginning of the fifth of The Descent by Jeff Long. To summarize: Tiresome pages of backstory, cheap writer’s tricks, and really frickin’ cool stuff.
I don’t know what it was that prompted me to set down the book and write the previous review, what instinct warned me that it was time to record my impressions – there was no time break or anything like that – but the very next paragraph announced a new narrative direction that almost made me put the book down for good. After spending four chapters introducing four interesting people, the point of view is wrested away from one of those characters and we are subjected to a series of anecdotes of only passing relevance to the story. We learn about the mobilization of millions of people, from dozens of countries, in absolute secrecy. Unlikely as that is, the secrecy turns out not to matter. The bad guys counterattack in a coordinated, lethal, downright evil fashion. Panic in the streets leads to great (but ultimately irrelevant) destruction. Our guy? The one this chapter started to be about? Oh, yeah, the author says (well, he practically does), probably should have mentioned – Branch is delirious with a fever in a hospital safely out of harm’s way.
At this point I started getting annoyed not only with the author but with the editor as well. If I had been the editor, much of this chapter would have been cut, and the story would have benefitted. Twenty (give or take) pages of blah blah blah in the omniscient point of view – “then this happened and then that happened” – while Branch, the interesting guy this chapter is supposed to be about, is mentioned now and then and winds up watching the worst of it on TV. Branch could have been in the middle of it, bringing us the events viscearally, which also happens to be the author’s strength. If I’m his editor, I say to Jeff, “ok, you’ve written a synopsis of events. Now put it in the story. Some of it won’t fit, and we’ll just cut those bits.”
This is a lesson I would do well to remember.
I did not put the book aside. I plowed through all the blah blah blah. Why? Because when Jeff Long gets to the parts he does well, he does them really well. Eventually the story starts again, with our man Branch down in the caves, and there’s horror and fear and holy crap there’s Ike. Ike was interesting before, but now… yeah, Ike has some stuff going on in his head. He gets full credit for my continued reading of this story.
And that’s what’s driving me crazy. Why couldn’t someone have gone over the manuscript before it got to me? I need William Goldman’s dad to say, “what with this and that, two years passed.”
So three quarters of chapter five is crap, but then it ends strong. There follows some maneuvering to get people in the right places to allow the adventure to truly begin. Fifty percent blah blah blah and a parade of names I sure hope don’t matter. And then a really cool encounter between Ike and Ali, a quiet meeting that shows Ike’s humanity, and his almost magical understanding of what it means to pass from the light into darkness. It’s a moment that will have repercussions, and just like that I’m back on board.
I just want to grab the author by the lapels and say, “Do you see the parts you do well? Yes? Just do those. Leave the rest.” At the end of my last review I thought I had gone through the introductions with the characters and now the story was going to get under way. It was time. A lot of pages later, I still have the feeling the story is about to get under way. Hopefully I’m right this time.
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