Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Tragic by Robert K. Tanenbaum

Roger Karp grimaced as he stretched one of his long legs into the aisle next to his seat.

The conflict in this opening sentence is a grimace. The question: why grimace? Thankfully, in the next couple sentences we learn that it was because of an old college football injury. Unlikely to have anything to do with the novel's main story arch. At least we hope that the entire novel doesn't hinge on that grimace, for it doesn't exactly sound gripping. But this is a prologue so there is no need for it to do anything except get the word count up to an acceptably marketable level. The people in PR salivate over prologues.

The first page wanders along, revealing to us that the characters are sitting in cramped quarters watching a production of Macbeth, you know, that play, in Central Park. The short of it is that this is all an elaborate associative exercise designed to introduce a plot, which is a case Karp had already lived through, ending the prologue with:

It all began with....three young men sitting in a car on a cold winter's night, nine months ago, contemplating a horrific deed.

This is, overall, a brilliant execution of literary technique 48b, which, simply stated, is: "Hello reader, meet plot. Plot, meet reader. Now that you two are acquainted, I'll go away," mouths writer, winking.

Sure enough, as hyped in the prologue, chapter 1 begins in a car.

"Pra Klyast," the young man in the backseat of the Delta 88 Oldsmobile said in Russian.

Unpublished creative writing instructors all over the world would scoff at this. You see, it begins with foreign words English readers don't understand, and in a car, and with a character complaining about the weather. The only question this line raises is what the hell does Pra Klyast mean? Scanning through the pages does not answer it. I'm thinking - hey, will I need a Russian-English dictionary to appreciate this novel fully and grasp the fragile nuances?

But naked realism with Russian who speak not good English amuse me. Is quaint really.

To sum up, the title of this novel profoundly suits its opening. Clever.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

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