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Alchemy Paperback – January 12, 2010
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About the Author
Alchemy is “author” Mike Wood’s first novel. His previous publications include a series of humor/dating pieces for the Connecticut Post, where he was a featured free-lance writer for their popular “Get Out” column. His work has also appeared in the web-based ‘zines, “CT Independent News” and “Scientific Dinosaur.” Alchemy is the result of a somewhat serendipitous meeting with best-selling author AJ Jacobs, whose continued praise and encouragement inspired Mike to head to the basement and start pursuing his secret dream of being a writer. Presently, Mike is happily living out his real dreams in Connecticut as a middle school teacher, faithful husband, and dedicated father.
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That said...that's not really what this book is about. Okay, there's a notebook with a code in it, and Al's father did go missing several years ago. But that's not the real story. The real story mainly revolves around Al's relationship (or wannabe relationship, depending) with Cammie, and the notebook and the "mystery" are pretty much a ploy to get her to spend time with him. That said...the summary is also a blatant lie. Al, our narrator, is a blatant liar. You know what I don't like? Unreliable narrators. They can be done incredibly well, when you know they're unreliable the whole time, and spend the entire book questioning what's real and what's not. But when you get to the end and find out that half the plot wasn't actually plot? No. No. That's not cool. See, up until the end, I really loved Alchemy. Okay, there were some issues. Wood apparently doesn't know to properly punctuate when using parentheses at the end of a sentence, and also is a little shaky on how to use quotation marks on dialogue that spans more than one paragraph. (For future reference, if the parentheses are a separate sentence, the punctuation goes inside them; if they are included in a larger sentence, the punctuation goes outside them. Also, if your dialogue spans more than one paragraph, you put quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph of dialogue, and then one final set of end quotation marks when your character stops speaking.) Still, I enjoyed the narrative style. There were some other aspects that put me off a bit (for example, Al's age is listed by the book as being 15, but the timeline is a little shaky sometimes so it's often hard to tell how old he is, and he has a job at one point but then it never shows up again) but I liked the overall story and the mystery and how it was all coming together. Would I have liked some more involvement of the Hugh Manatee storyline, or the story about the guys looking for pirate gold? Yeah. Sure. Definitely. But I was still thoroughly enjoying the book, and it was looking at a four-star rating.
Then there was the end. The end was preachy. The end completely derailed the rest of the book. Honestly, I think it would have been perfectly possible to end Alchemy without trying to beat me over the head with the lesson of "appreciate what you have before it's gone" and turning the entire mystery into a red herring. I was so incredibly disappointed by how the ending dragged on and felt the need to beat me over the head with the moral lesson when the lesson should have been clear from the entire book; really, it's like War and Peace. When I say that, I mean that in War and Peace, Tolstoy spends the entire book building up his philosophy of history, and then spends the last forty or so pages of the book telling you exactly the same thing but all in one place. It's just not necessary, and it results in treating your reader like they are intellectually inferior and aren't smart enough to "get" the point you've been making.
So, yeah, I enjoyed the bulk of Alchemy. But in the end, being treated like I couldn't understand the lesson of the book and being told that half the book had just been a decoy was so infuriating that it completely ruined the rest of the experience for me.
2.5 out of 5 stars.
This is a fun journey to come along with for the ride, full of highs and low, but especially a lot of apprehension. Who can't look back on their life and put themselves in Al's shoes as they turn the pages or say, yeah I remember someone like most of the characters Al comes across? Throw in the mystery of what happened to Al's dad and you've got a pretty nice read. My only criticism is the book seems to end a couple of times, it nicely wraps everything up in an emotional payoff then for some reason keeps going trying to tie up loose ends with an epilogue (that isn't called one), minor things that I think would have been better of just leaving untied, as they weren't really that important and the momentum of events has already stopped. Then once again that unnecessary epilogue seems to be over and we have yet another one that is also rather anticlimactic and adds really nothing, just drags us further away from what should have been a great ending earlier on. But the journey up to the unnecessarily last couple of chapters had been so good that this can be forgiven.
A great novel, I look forward to reading other work by this author if he chooses to write anything else.
I didn't enjoy the opening introductions because they felt really forced to me, but after that, I enjoyed getting to know Al and friends - and I enjoyed the idea of the mystery/codes etc. While some of the details about his dad were quickly obvious, it was still disappointing to me that the story took a totally different turn from the mystery angle. I was looking forward to the mystery/adventure. I'm trying not to spoil the story, so it's hard for me to write my thoughts completely. I guess the the long and short is that I felt like it became very belabored. Some of the dialogue was just too much. And it seemed that Al sure was an emotional genius for processing some difficult issues quickly. In the end, it just felt like two halves of two different books - like a fun/nostalgic would-be mystery/adventure turned preachy after school special.
Still, I did keep wanting to stay till the end, and I found Al pretty likeable overall. Esp the parts that were just b/t Al and Cammie and Al and his friends were fun. So - it's a solid three, in my opinion.