I just gave up on a book called Pines by Blake Crouch. It was read by Paul Michael Garcia, who is narrator that I really like–he’s done a number of science fiction novels including several of Heinlein’s that I own.
The writing style was pretty fair, nice description and the language was elegant without getting too flowery. The problem was the story.
See, there’s this guy. We don’t know who he is. He doesn’t know who he is. He’s in some place that looks like an ordinary town but is kind of spooky in an indefinable way. And this guy likes coffee, but he doesn’t have a wallet, so he can’t buy any. And he’s hurt, but he doesn’t want to go to the hospital for some reason that neither he nor us knows. So he wanders around the empty streets of this vaguely creepy town.
And that’s a far as I got. Because I don’t care what happens next.
I’m supposed to. I can tell that I am supposed to be on the edge of my seat wanting to know who this mysterious stranger is and why he’s in this creepy town and how he got injured and what makes the town so creepy.
But I don’t. Instead I decided to make up my own story.
The guy’s name is Joe Boat. His wife, Margie Boat, drives up and gives him his medicine, which he forgot that morning, and then he remembers who he is and he goes into his work at the craft store (which is where he left his wallet) and his boss chides him for forgetting to take his medicine that morning, but understands and doesn’t fire him for wandering off on his lunch hour. After work he goes back home to Margie and thanks her for looking for him when his boss called to say he’d wandered off again. Then the Boats go to bed and have such great sex that their corgi runs and hides under the couch. The end.
Now, that is probably not the story that Blake Crouch wanted to tell. But, you know, if he wanted to tell me a different story, he should have done so. But he didn’t. Instead of Joe Boat, Craft Store Clerk, I got… some guy.
And I’m sorry, some guy, but I really don’t care what happens to you. You’re not my problem, dude.
Now, I love mysteries in fiction. I love the conventional “whodunit” style as well as the more metaphysical “what’s going on here” thing. But I need some kind of buy-in before I’ll sit down at the table. If I don’t have any skin in the game I get bored.
This book skipped the ante. Heck, this book skipped the deal. Instead Mr Crouch just shows me a couple of face down cards and I don’t even know what the game is. Am I winning, am I losing, if I win do I get the door with the new car, or am I stuck with the goat? Tell me why I care what happens next.
It’s really not rocket surgery. But I’ve seen people drop the ball before the game really begins this way a lot, for example in Wool, which I also gave up on before the author got around to telling me what was going on and why it matters. It’s supposed to be some kind of hook, I think, making the reader keep reading in order to find out the truth.
But you have to prime the pump–or, at least, you have to with me. I need some reason the care about the character, to want Joe to find his way back to Margie and their adorable corgi. (Edmund. The corgi’s name is Edmund. They call him Edmund the Chewer. And they let him sleep on the bed when they’re not having great sex.)
But this some guy? Does he have some girl someplace that I want him to find his way back to? Some dog, maybe? I don’t know. And I’m not going to take the time to find out.