Thursday, August 8, 2013
Review::Sara Dwells & the Book of Answers by Paul Waters
I've only found a small number of reviews for this book and they sum it up while falling short of the mark by offering no explanation for the short expressions of praise they dish out.
I really enjoyed this book even though at times it frustrated and confused me, but I'm an easily frustrated and confused person. The book starts out rich with the depth of emotion in a story that could have been quite sustainable within itself. The author chose to take it into several divergent directions that mostly confused me because it quickly switched the genre at almost the turn of a few sentences. What follows that clearly reminded me of a weird blend of several of my favorite authors works.
This is why I need more explanation when someone claims its a book unlike any novel ever written.
And of course I've never been a fan of the short review with one extended sentence praising the book as a page turner and the author as a master without offering up the proof in the pudding, so to speak.
This book deserves more than that.
Mysteriously it also deserves more than what time Paul Water spent to publish it electronically-- unless of course the poor formatting was actually a style choice, and that's something I would surely hope was not the case. So as usual I will caution any reader who gets agitated by the serious malformation and destruction of the paragraph--this book will annoy you. There are entire sections that start new paragraphs in the middle of a sentence and a thought. Then there are other spots where it becomes difficult to separate paragraphs as they lose their indentation. This might be more easily avoided by reading through the Style Guide by Mark Coker, which is available here on Amazon (free). Many of these problems are a result of poor interaction between the document and the interface that constructs the e-book. So, although they are annoying, I don't attempt to penalize the author.(That does not mean we shouldn't check to make sure these conditions are minimized.)
I found this book because I was searching out a copy of The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslov Hasek--a black comedy about the first world war. This book was listed as related somehow or another. Sara Dwells & the Book of Answers does take place between the two world wars so there is that connection.
The story starts on stormy winters night in the village of Whipper Wheel-- you will have to read to find out how it gets its name. Mary Dwells is giving birth to a healthy baby she will name Anna. The whole village is there including the doctor the pastor and the oldest living resident. I liked this beginning because it has some flare to it that remind me a bit of George Elliot's Silas Marner. There was even some potential for it to build strongly in this but the author took a different direction.
After giving birth and everyone has gone home, Mary has complications that end up being Anna's twin who appears to die at birth. The doctor and the pastor have made it out in time to deliver the baby but it dies. The doctor and pastor brave a storm to take the baby's body to prepare for a funeral. Caught in the storm with both men and their horses nearly freezing they are able to make it to the church and make themselves comfortable to ride out the blizzard. Over night a miracle happens and Sara, the yet to be named child, revives. After much drama about being trapped in the church the doctor is able to take the baby to the hospital (his home) and tend to her while others notify the parents.
There is a side story that occurs with the death of a family friend of the Dwells and this is part of what confused me in that I'm not sure just how relevant to the story this part is. It is expanded upon in later portions and its possible that the conflict therein is resolved, but it has no true intersection to the story of Sara. Again it bears reading to see what I mean. This is not a poorly written story and it has many compelling aspects so I encourage those who might be inclined to test the waters, so to speak.
Now some few years later when Sara is twelve it is evident that she has not gone unscathed by the traumatic birth and she is not popular though she is quite bright and talented. She is a troubled preteen. And this is where the story takes a sort of 90 degree turn into another dimension similar to what some of Robert Heinlein's characters did in several of his later works.
What happens next felt to me like a blend of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Baum's Wizard of Oz(Dorthy), and any number of classic fantastic adventures such as Vernes' Journey to the Center of the Earth, Doyle's The Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar series. Squeeze into that some of the odd descriptions in C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce or even some scenes from Dante's Inferno. And perhaps its this mix of various notions that make it unique that someone has tried to mash all these into one story.
The thing is that it's all done quite well, but it leaves me hanging as to putting an age related genre recommendation onto it. It reads mostly like a young adult and could survive that were it not for some bits and pieces that would make it more a Mature Young Adult at best. There is also a strong thread of philosophical religious thought-- that runs through the whole piece.
Again I'll have to encourage everyone-of a certain age- to read this. At least try the sample, which contains minor examples of the formatting difficulties. After reading that much you might be hard pressed to avoid reading the rest. It really can be a page turner if you can get into the story.
A five star effort with caveat's for pernickety (persnickety) readers.