RSS Feed Print
The Reviewer's Corner - A Sense of Place
Posted: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 6:21 PM
Joined: 5/12/2015
Posts: 41

Background note: I’ve recently joined a structured review group, which puts me in a continuous stream of self-published books. Group policies prohibits posting reviews for titles receiving a personal rating of less than 3-stars (using the Amazon system). Since only about half the books coming my way receive a “3”, I think it’s useful to point out some of the trends I’ve noticed in self-published work. Your mileage may vary — but at least there might be a few remarks here worthy of your attention.
Two new books I’ve opened lately represent opposite ends of a continuum which I call Sense of Place.
A Memory of Grief (Dale T Phillips) is a Super Alpha “thriller” — a genre much more common, now, with the widely-recognized success of the Jack Reacher series. Grief introduces the character of Zachary Taylor (named for our 12th President evidently) who’s hot for revenge now that someone has killed a friend of his. (And he’s not going to call the cops, of course. Real Men don’t do things like that). Like most Super Alpha leading men, Taylor has a volcanic temper — wins impossible hand-to-hand encounters — is irresistible to women — and is so much smarter than the average bear (yawn).
As we know, the book market among the masculine gender is quite small. But men are willing to invest in a Super Alpha narrative, since it makes Our Gender seem so amazing and admirable. That’s why there are thousands of this kind of book out there. And thousands more to come.
But “a sense of place” is the title of this post — and this book is notable because it completely lacks one. The author is at pains to note that Taylor travels north, from Florida, to Portland, ME. Since Phillips is a New England author, I would have expected quite a bit of local color. Maine, itself, is hardly an anonymous place.
And yet...there’s nothing. Not even a “downeast” accent. Not even any weather. A book set in Nowhere — which inclined me not to take it very seriously. 
Contrast that with the excellent detective yarn Making Bones (Bill Vaughn). Vaughn also lives where he writes: in the Missouri Breaks country of central Montana. He lives there, he knows the terrain — and he wants us to know it, too. Even though it’s difficult country to love: starting out wild, and rapidly returning to the wild — having never been domesticated very much. The texture of the terrain, the wildlife that fills it, and the rugged people who’ve chosen to stay on the land made this book worthwhile for me, and I gave it one of the few 5-star ratings I’ve handed out in my lifetime.
So...a tale of two books. In closing, it might not hurt to mention Sense of Place in regard to speculative literature: the science fiction and fantasy worlds that so many new writers are eager to construct. If it’s difficult to assemble a Sense of Place from an actual location — the county, the town, the street where you live — then imagine how much more difficult it is to be convincing about a location that has NEVER existed. It’s not easy to conjure up a world. Which is why only very gifted people can do it. 
Until next time.... 

Posted: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 7:01 PM
Joined: 8/20/2015
Posts: 95

Nice post, and entirely agreed. The balancing act between subtle exposition of place/time, and real drama of action/dialogue, is hard to do but imperative to succeed at.

Jump to different Forum...