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A BAD novel only made tolerable by the talent of author
on February 15, 2012
Over ten years ago, I wrote my first novel. It was a rambling epic filled with long passages of flashbacks that tied intimately into the present day. The inspiration for my writing style at the time was Richard North Patterson. He's always been one of my favorites, and I even enjoyed his political novels even when I didn't agree with the politics. FALL FROM GRACE unfortunately fails on so many levels. But, since Patterson is such a talented author, the book ends up being interesting.
The plot is typical of his earlier novels. Take a bunch of people who are messed up. Create a current crises, and have the answer to that crisis be a tragic event in the past. In this novel, Ben Blaine has died. The rich best-selling author fell from a cliff at Martha's Vineyard, and son Adam Blaine has returned home for the funeral.
Adam hated his father, and soon discovers the conflict will continue after his father's death. His father's will has left out his mom and his brother, and given everything to an actress he was dating and Jenny Leigh, Adam's ex-girlfriend.
Why this novel is HORRIBLE: Two reasons. First, for the vast majority of the novel, nothing happens. Second, the flashbacks are handled incredibly poorly. Here's what happens for most of the novel. Adam Blaine decides to investigate what happened to his dad, and to try and have the will changed. He begins by talking to people. He talks to his mom, his brother, and then a doctor. Then a psychiatrist. Then the actress, then Jenny, then a cop, then a DA. That's it. Chapter to chapter is Adam going down a list talking to different characters. Patterson never shows us anything. Everything is told, all the events of the novel are recounted. Everything is too contrived. Characters are talked to in an order that will slowly reveal the plot, not in and order that would make sense. For instance, I would have thought Adam would have talked to Jenny first, not days later.
Something obviously happened between Adam and his dad ten years ago. But, something obviously happened with Jenny too. Yet Adam doesn't talk to her. Somehow she doesn't make it on the list of people to talk to until it is convenient for the story. Adam just didn't behave as rational, normal character would.
Second problem is the flashbacks. Patterson used to devote entire sections of novels the flashbacks. The flashbacks would reveal truths about characters and cover events that shape the major conflicts of the novel. In this book, flashbacks are a sentence long, a paragraph long, a page long. Too short to be meaningful, and too numerous to have an impact.
Why this novel is GOOD: In the end, I found myself enjoying the fast and furious pace of the twists as Patterson revealed one demented twist after another. These characters are sick and damaged, and no one beats Patterson in the art of the revelation. I love how he includes parts from earlier in the novel in italics as memories as the story unfolds.
Patterson is a great author, so in his greatness he made a poor novel entertaining. But, regardless of how good the novel was at the end, it doesn't overcome the poorly structured beginning and middle in which Adam does nothing more than listen to people tell stories about the past. In a Patterson novel a decade ago, we would have lived the past. Instead, we were just told about it.