๐ƒ๐จ๐ง’๐ญ ๐๐ž๐ฅ๐ข๐ž๐ฏ๐ž ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐‡๐ฒ๐ฉ๐ž ๐š๐›๐จ๐ฎ๐ญ “๐…๐š๐ฅ๐ฅ๐ข๐ง๐ ”

I was eager to read the airplane thriller Falling because I’d been watching terrific movies set in the air: Red Eye, Executive Decision, Air Force One, Flight Plan, and Non-Stop.ย  I also re-read Chris Bohjalian’s dazzling, beautifully written thriller The Flight Attendant.ย 

So I wanted to love Falling, but the book falls flat again and again despite the insane hoopla it’s been generating.ย 

As the crime fiction reviewer for the Detroit Free Press, I often saw my fellow reviewers across the country rave about books that were badly.ย  Sometimes they even admitted as much, or came close to it, but shrugged off indifferent or even dreadful prose because they liked the plot.ย  Their cascading kudos, plus blurbs from best-selling authors and good packaging, could easily make a bad book successful.

That seems to have happened with T.J. Newman’s debut thriller about a pilot being given the choice by a terrorist to crash his plane or have his family killed.ย  The book has a beautiful cover but goes wrong in the very first chapter when the author grossly cheats her readers: the nightmarish flight she describes is only a nightmare.ย  That’s an amateurish mistake a conscientious editor should have warned her to avoid.

The frantic shifts in the opening chapter from one character to another are just as wrong-headed, and even worse, there are lines that need to be re-read because they don’t immediately make sense.ย  Despite a slew of blurbs from writers like Stephen King, Ian Rankin, and Diana Gabaldon, this book is marred by writing that’s either weak, confused, ungrammatical, or trying too hard.ย  Here are some examples:

Jo immediately understood why Big Daddy had failed to put a finger on the man’s essence.ย  He had an intangible mysteriousness, a mercurial quality of shadow.

A hollow dread seeped out of his heart.
ย 

Carrie stared at the floor.ย  The kettle began to screech and she shut off the burner.ย  The noise gradually softened until it was only the clock making noise again.

Daddy covered his mouth, a glint of Eureka! gleaming in his eyes.
ย 
A cold and hollow ache pooled at the base of his spine.
ย 
Stepping off the jet bridge stairs onto the tarmac, Bill squinted under his hand’s attempt to shield the sun.
ย 

Turning it clockwise, yellow digital numbers descended toward the new frequency.

Lying at Bill’s feet, broken and bloodied, her jaw hung open but no words came.

The author also doesn’t seem to know what “residue”ย  means or the difference between “definite” and “definitive”–among other problems with diction.

The story’s momentum is damaged by sometimes pointless flashbacks, one of which is three pages long.ย  Aspects of the plot don’t always make sense either, and that’s even more problematic.ย  Would a mother with young children let in a repairman who shows up unexpectedly without an ID–and then offer him tea?ย  And it’s unbelievable that her husband sees this man at home but a few hours later doesn’t recognize him on a video call.ย 

Perhaps the strangest element is the author’s relentless attempt to humanize the terrorists, whose reason for choosing this particular pilot is never really clear.ย  Almost as screwed up: the baseball players at targeted Yankee Stadium decide to keep playing even when they’ve been warned to evacuate because the plane is headed their way.ย 

Ten years as a flight attendant have given the author deep knowledge about planes and on-board protocols, but she overdoes the details at times, adding to the book’s overall weakness. It’s not entirely her fault, of course. Knowing that Falling book had been rejected by 41 agents, her publisher should have given the book the editing it badly needed.ย  They didn’t, which is either careless, cynical, or both.ย 

Lev Raphael is the prize-winning author of 27 books in genres from memoir to mystery and has been a newspaper, online, and radio book reviewer for over twenty years.

 

 

When an Author’s Quirks Get in the Way: Chris Bohjalian and “The Flight Attendant”

Chris Bohjalian’s most recent novel of suspense tells a gripping story about an alcoholic flight attendant, Cassie Bowden, who wakes up in a luxury hotel bed in Dubai next to a murdered man she slept with the night before.ย  His throat’s been slashed and there’s lots of blood in the bed.ย  When she drinks too much, she has blackouts, and she’s wondering if she could have killed him, though she can’t imagine why.

What should she do now?

Cassie has a history of bad choices and some of what she does immediately and in the days after her horrific discovery is truly off the wall–when it’s not just plain dumb.ย  The lawyer who eventually tries to help her has no problem calling her crazy.

So who killed Cassie’s sexy, wealthy hook-up?ย  And was he really a hedge fund manager?ย  Cassie doesn’t know, but before long she starts suspecting that she’s being followed.ย  In classic thriller style, her troubles escalate as the story unfolds, and often because of her own mistakes.ย  Cassie is almost a total screw-up, but it’s hard not to sympathize with her, given the alcoholism in her family.ย  And given that she’s painfully aware of how stuck she is in very bad patterns:

She wanted to be different from what she was–to be anything but what she was.ย  But every day that grew less and less likely.ย  Life, it seemed to her…was nothing but a narrowing of opportunities.ย  It was a funnel.

The details of her work life in the air and on the ground are fascinating, ditto how she interacts with her fellow flight attendants, and Bohjalian is at his best describing Cassie’s shame about her alcoholic blackouts.

But the writing is a bit odd at times. Streets and aisles are described as “thin” rather than “narrow” for no apparent reason. The author has a fondness for unusual words like “gamically,” “cycloid,” “niveous,” “ineludibly,” “noctivagant,” and “fioritura” which stop you right in your tracks.ย  The last one is a doozy.ย  It refers to vocal ornamentation in opera and seems totally out of place in describing a lawyer’s complaint to her client.

At a point when Cassie is longing for a drink, it’s not enough for Bohjalian to call it her ambrosia.ย  No, he has to pile on synonyms “amrita” and “essentia.”ย  Seriously?

You get the feeling with all these splashy word choices that Bohjalian is showing off, but why would a best-selling author bother?ย  Does he somehow feel that he has to jazz up his thriller with fancy-shmancy diction to prove that he’s more than just a genre writer?

Bohjalian also spends way too much time on Cassie’s amygdala, her “lizard” brain, and mistakenly thinks it’s a seat of reflection.ย  It isn’t.

Almost as annoying as his vocabulary or his weak grasp of neuroscience is the fact that his American characters sound British when they use “rather” as in statements like “I rather doubt that–” Even the narrative employs “rather” as a modifier way too often.ย  This is apparently a tic of his that nobody’s bothered to point out to him. Likewise, Bohjalian uses formal phrasing in a story that’s anything but formal, so time and again there are constructions like this one: “She hadn’t a choice.” Given the book that he’s written, “She didn’t have a choice” seems more direct and natural.

Despite the distracting quirks, I stuck with this thriller because the protagonist is a fascinating hot mess and Bohjalian is a solid story teller when he gets out of his own way.ย  The novel has some fine twists and a satisfying and surprisingly heartwarming ending.

Lev Raphael is the author of 26 books in many genres including the newly-released mystery State University of Murder.ย  He teaches creative writing workshops online at writewithoutborders.com where he also offers editing services.

The Editor Who Worked My Last Nerve

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have terrific editors for stories or essays appearing in magazines and anthologies.ย  The same goes for all my books, whether the presses were large or small. Well, almost all my books.

An editor at a good trade press once asked me out of the blue if I had a book for him–now isn’t that every writer’s dream? The dream became tarnished within a year. I was headed on a German book tour for another book while “his” book was in press and he told me the schedule had been advanced several months.ย  He insisted on sending me the e-galleys for correction while I was going to be in Germany. I told him I couldn’t go over them because I’d be on and off trains and rarely in one city more than one day. It wasn’t feasible: I wouldn’t have enough uninterrupted time to concentrate and do a good job. I thought I was being a responsible author, but he ignored my concerns.

This was my first book tour in Germany and it would turn out to be the worst flight I’d ever have going to Europe.ย  Trouble started with being in a seat that didnโ€™t recline behind an over-sized passenger who reclined all the way. Then I was right across from a toilet so I was enveloped in that chemical smell for the whole flight.ย  A kid threw up in the aisle just a few feet away from me and soon after that, the plane turned back somewhere over the Atlantic because a man had a heart attack.

We landed in Newfoundland in complete darkness which was terrifying, and I knew for sure I would be late getting to Schiphol in Amsterdam. Very late.ย  And that’s a confusing, crowded airport anyway.

I was able to make some calls when we landed in Newfoundland, but I was totally stressed out and unable to sleep when we were back en route to Europe.ย  In Amsterdam, I had to run through that enormous crowded airport to make a connecting flight, and arrived in Berlin sleepless and exhausted.ย  There was just enough time for me to wash my face at my hotel, put on deodorant and change my shirt before being rushed to my reading (which I still managed to introduce in pretty good German).

Because I used only a PC at home, I didn’t have a laptop in Germany and discovered to my horror that Internet cafรฉs had German keyboards–well, of course, why shouldn’t they? But the layout and letters threw me and my emails looked like I was drunk.

Proof my book under those extra-trying circumstances? I explained to this insistent and clueless editor that even if I had time it couldn’t happen, so I asked him again to please wait till I got home in a few weeks–or proof the galleys himself. I’m not sure if he bothered, because at the next stage, back home, the book had a major goof which, he, I, and the copyeditor had all somehow missed.ย  This happens in publishing all the time as any author will tell you: mistakes slip through. But if I’d had the galleys and had time for them (say, with only half as many readings on my schedule), I would have caught the problem.

It was too expensive to reset the book at this late date–that’s what the publisher told me. So the book I was so proud of wasn’t published in as polished a form as it should have been, and the editor I was originally flattered to work with turned into an unsympathetic jerk.

An author friend told me when my career had just gotten started that the only thing worse than not being published was being published.ย  It opened you up to a range of shocks and disappointments you never knew existed. But I’m glad my career has proven his wisdom true only sometimes, and that this editor was a very rare exception for me.

Happy-Writer1Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in many genres which you can find on Amazon, including Assault With a Deadly Lie, a suspense novel about militarized cops, which was a finalist for a Midwest Book Award.