- File Size: 2056 KB
- Print Length: 364 pages
- Publisher: Abrachadabra Books in association with Paddy's Daddy Publishing (May 19, 2017)
- Publication Date: May 19, 2017
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B06XRY46G8
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,136,602 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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The Thirteen Lives of Frank Peppercorn Kindle Edition
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|Length: 364 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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As the dedication in the book makes it all too clear, most of us know someone who has (a family member with) Alzheimer’s. This is why authors and friends Mark Wilson and Ryan Bracha wanted to do something and their initiative led to this novel of stories, as they call it. A lovely initiative and a worthy cause. The goal is to raise money for Alzheimer’s Charities within the UK and also the US. Every six months another Alzheimer’s Charity is chosen to be the recipient of the proceeds of The Thirteen Lives of Frank Peppercorn. The first recipient is Alzheimer’s Research UK.
When you fall in love and get married – have a life together filled with loving moments and your love dies, all that is left are the loving memories of the things you did for love, celebrating the impact your husband had on your heart. Betty is Frank Peppercorn’s grieving widow and now is the time to bury him. They had been together for almost ten years and Betty thought she knew everything about his life – accepted that Frank never had many friends nor was at any time more than “the remarkable man excelling in being unremarkable.” As the day of the funeral goes on, Betty finds new insights into her husband and his life – and meets his friends, for the first time ever. Who was Frank? Come to his funeral and I will show you.
Wow. This is quite an exceptional book, almost impossible to review. I love the concept of the framework, such a great idea, Ryan Bracha. What a remarkable day and what a journey protagonist Betty has been through at the end of the book. When she sets out to bury her husband, she only knows that she buries but the carbon copy of him, his being is deep within her and in her thoughts, she finds his presence, he is with her still. Although the premise of a set of stories within a framework is hardly new (Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales being the outstanding example) this is special because each story has a different author, contributor. Each story relates a part of Frank’s life and Ryan Bracha has had his work cut out for him to connect them in a way that speaks to the reader. There is a bit of dark humour in Jason Mitchell’s story as well as Ryan Bracha’s Salt and Peppercorn (this was quite unexpected!), and a plot twist in Dominic Adler’s tale. Some I found hard to fathom and kept me wondering like Craig Furchtenicht’s story, and the most shocking one was probably Shervin Jamali’s Via Cua. For me, the most touching ones were Mark Wilson’s moving story of the two brothers and Kevin Berg’s story, brilliant in its simplicity. An extraordinary collection of stories and a great initiative!
Kevin Berg is the only writer I'm familiar with in the collection, and his entry is the rawest of the entire collection. Many of the themes he explored in “Indifference,” his debut novel, appear in “Pieces Forgotten” – maybe too many? Berg again uses the “damaged war vet” character, but this time the character has suffered from the War on Terror, not Vietnam. Nonetheless, still a good story, with an ending that isn't the hopeless one you expect.
The collection meanders along for a while, with the reader learning more and more about our deceased title character. Frank Peppercorn is not the Caspar Milquetoast his widow, Betty, conceives him to be – he has seemingly limitless facets, and is capable of both great cruelty as well as a rough sort of compassion.
Things pick up with “Franny the Tranny,” Robert Cowan's excellent story. Cowan could've shouted Frank's “tranny” rebellion at us from a bullhorn, but instead he has Frank calmly and matter-of-factly state his reasons, which makes it much more compelling. There's violence and death, but the story is still strangely quiet, with Frank's unruffled actions sitting in the center.
The next few entries are also excellent. Shervin Jamali's tale of “kingpin” Frank shows our protagonist (if you can call him that) at his murky best. Is he hero, anti-hero, or villain – or do none of these terms apply to him? Likely the last one.
Martin Stanley shows us the “roughly compassionate” Frank. Stanley has a steady hand, and his characters are well-drawn. Despite the battering the wife takes and Frank's not-so-saintly intervention, there's a quietness to the tale, like Cowan's “Franny the Tranny.” I guess it's the writing craft showing – Stanley is here to tell a solid story, not preach at us or throw cheap shocks our way.
Craig Furchtenicht's story is the most action-packed and wildest of the bunch. Crazed Amish mafia thugs with pitchforks? I think that's how it goes? Well, you can never have enough of those, can ya? This presents us with “secret agent,” or at least “collaborator” Frank. Furchtenicht also tosses in some social commentary on teenage pregnancies, commentary you won't hear on the nightly news. A small detail, but one that stuck with me.
Allen Miles follows up with a demented train-set collector. I've always wanted to write a story about a demented stamp collector, and this is the next closest thing. The man presents his delusions so earnestly that you start to believe model trains and the small worlds you can build around them are worth tossing your life away. How Frank shatters the man – literally and figuratively – is predictable, but that doesn't weaken the story.
Before I move on to the ending, I'll talk about Ryan Bracha, the man who's supposed to hold all this together. Does he succeed? Overall, no – and that's mainly because of the “novel's” structure. Betty Peppercorn, Frank's widow, sits passively while Frank's gallery of enemies and friends tells her their stories. After they're done, Betty's perspective returns, at which point she needs to do something, anything, to make up for being virtually absent from the story.
Bracha tries to get her moving and acting, but it's not enough. Mainly she repeats that she's glad to get another piece of Frank. Occasionally she gets angry. A few times she acts strong and forthright, but again, it's not enough the counteract her captivity. And that's what she is – a captive, as other people (and other writers) tell interesting stories that, except on very few occasions, don't involve her at all. Captive characters aren't engrossing.
Some of the writers try to involve Betty (“Don't look at me like that, Mrs. Peppercorn,” or something similar), but before long the pull of the narrative takes over, and she drifts away. By the end of the novel, I didn't know much about Betty, and I didn't care to know more. These writers have made her late husband so interesting that it's reduced her to a non-entity.
Finally, the last story, Mark Wilson's “Crafty Pig.” Seriously? After all this, and we have such an absurd plot device foisted on us? I'm not going to reveal what it is, but it's a cheap twist where no twist was needed. If I sound bitter, I am – this “novel” deserved a strong ending, not the head-scratching one we get.
Now, on to the formatting. Yes, we need to talk about this.
I've never seen a work of literature formatted like this. Usually writers indent at the beginning of a paragraph, yet in “Thirteen Lives” indentations are few and far between. The text is just stacked on top of itself. It's not a wall of text; the writers do press “enter,” they just don't press “tab.” It makes the reading difficult, especially when I'm reading dialogue.
Some writers use multiple line breaks to separate paragraphs (Berg does this in “Indifference,” but he also indents), which is fine – what isn't fine is to do nothing, and just stack and stack and stack the text. According to my notes, Martin Stanley's and Mark Wilson's entries are the only ones with correct formatting. I'd like to double-check this, but I can't, at least not easily – which brings me to my next point.
This book begs to be professionally formatted. (In the off chance it has been professionally formatted, the authors need to ask for a refund.) If I want to review a particular author's story, I can't just go to the table of contents or the Kindle's “Go To” function and click on a link, and be instantly whisked to where I need to be – I have to swipe through the file for who knows how long until I find the story I want.
In a standard novel, with one author, you could maybe get away without professional formatting. With this many authors, it's a necessity.
The text size did change at random times throughout the novel, which, again, could've been rectified by a formatter. Also, while many of the stories are flawlessly presented, several have far too many spelling and grammar errors.
That's a lot of discussion about the formatting. How much has it affected my rating? Say half a star. With a better ending, and a cleaner file, this is a four-star work. As it stands, three stars is as high as I can go.