Stopped Reading REVIEW: A Smudge of Gray – Jonathan SturakPosted: June 19, 2014
I’m conflicted about writing a negative review of this book. I stopped reading, which is usually a 1-star (I didn’t like it) review, but the merits of this book still pushed me towards a 2-star rating (It was OK).
The reason for my conflict is that I dislike the style of Sturak’s writing, but I acknowledge that he has a way with words and that there are almost no mistakes in his prose.
Let me first state what I liked about the book:
The cover is brilliant, I think. Ominous and eye-popping despite the lack of bright colours. Clearly a professional cover.
The blurb is also good. Good, clear prose, and a concise conflict that interested me.
Which is why I’m disappointed in the content of the book itself and stopped reading at the end of chapter 10.
Like I said, Sturak has a way with words, but instead of form following function, function was definitely subservient to form. Sounding a bit too pleased at his ability to write a simile or metaphor, Sturak’s convoluted prose strangles the story like kudzu vines killing a tree by taking away all sunlight.
I read part of the sample before I downloaded the book (for free) and was at first captivated by the prose, but after a while I started to long for the clear, concise prose Sturak used in his blurb.
Make no mistake, Sturak can write. I enjoyed the flowery descriptions: “A subway station bustled, infected with morning commuters.” The images were wonderful, however, the descriptions often tended to run several paragraph and dragged down the pace of the story.
Meanwhile the characters are unsympathetic without fail. Trevor Malloy is an arrogant and sadistic hitman, and his wife Laura is described in loving detail as a ‘housewife, a homemaker and babysitter when the kids weren’t in school’ with ‘a hourglass figure’ with the ‘naive look of an auburn-haired Hollywood star from the 1940s with her simple elegance’ who ‘spoiled her children’ and was in turn ‘spoiled by her husband with a large bankroll, which offered her a life filled with salon trips and a closet filled with designer clothes’. She behaves unsympathetic, complaining that she ‘doesn’t understand why her husband bought a trampoline’ when all the children do ‘is jump on that trampoline the minute they got home’. In all the interaction with the children and her husband she comes across as a whiny insecure hellion.
Brian Boise is an overworked detective who’d rather spend time crawling up the career ladder than with his haranguing wife and non-descript sullen kid constantly complaining about Boise’s lack of attention. His colleagues are rude, obnoxious turds who belittle and ridicule him.
Along with the drawn-out descriptions that reeked of verbal diarrhoea, Sturak has a tendency to talk down to his readers as if they are totally ignorant of the world around them:
Katie and Kevin jumped from the trampoline and ran toward their father at the back patio. Their dad was tall and wore a dark gray suit with black onyx cufflinks securing his French cuffs. He was wheeling a 20″ Travelpro Rollaboard carry-on featuring toughened nylon waterproof ball-bearing inline skate wheels and a Checkpoint-friendly laptop compartment–the ultimate addition to the frequent business traveler. The kids hugged him tenderly, just as two kids did who adored their father.
Like we need the retailer’s description of his luggage and the pointers that the kids adore their father.
Brian lowered his voice as lovers did when they expressed their feelings verbally.
This is a detective trying to convince his wife that it’s a good career move to solve a copycat murder case.
The verbosity extends to the use of alternative speech tags for the simple ‘said/whispered/yelled’, but often missed the ball:
“I want spaghetti!” Kevin shouted.
“I want hot dogs!” his sister contradicted.
To contradict is to deny the truth (of a statement) by asserting the opposite, and hot dogs are not the opposite of spaghetti.
“All you do is jump on (the trampoline) all day long.”
“Not all day, Mom. We have school,” Kevin clarified.
Kevin’s reply is a retort, not a clarification.
One of his gloved hands gripped his proverbial briefcase.
I wondered to what proverb or idiom the briefcase referred, but evidently Sturak means that the briefcase always accompanied the character.
The silhouette of an inert figure holding a briefcase stared at him.
Inert means lacking the ability or strength to move, it’s not a substitute for ‘motionless’.
…, the tingle of adrenaline flowing through his amplified veins.
Amplification is the increase in volume of sound, not an increase in physical volume of matter. Though sometimes used to describe the intensifying of feelings (amplified hearing) or concepts (amplified political unrest), or enlarging upon or adding detail to a story or statement, the widening of veins is not amplification.
The verbose prose also tends to dramatise everyday inanimate objects in a way that irritated me:
On the nightstand, a clock blared “11:57.”
The clock is not making any sound, so blaring is odd.
Without warning, the car propelled on the track, and just like that, chaos ensued.
This is a description of a leaving subway train during normal ‘rush hour’. The departure of a subway train is usually preceded by doors hissing shut and the soft tug when the train starts moving, so it’s not shooting forward ‘without warning’. No ‘chaos ensues’, but rather the normal bustle of a subway station continues.
This time he dropped the cake on the floor. It detonated.
The sponge cake ‘detonates’? Since ‘detonate’ means ‘causing to explode’, the description goes awry. Sponge cake, even if flung at a tile floor, rarely explodes and never causes anything to explode.
The third floor elevators sat in tranquility, but then an abrupt ding sliced through the silence. The shining doors opened as Trevor strolled off.
Quite a dramatic description for an elevator arriving and a passenger getting off.
Large maps of the city were sprawled across the walls.
Sprawling is a horizontal action (sitting, lying, falling), not a vertical one.
(Character opens a top drawer.) Inside, a 9mm pistol, silencer, and ammunition glared at him.
So a pistol stares at him angrily or fiercely? While I concur that a pistol might have a menacing or ominous vibe, glaring requires eyes, something a gun lacks.
I’m sure many readers will probably delight in Sturak’s wordiness, but I couldn’t be bothered to drag myself through garrulous blathering with literary pretensions where I expected a tense thriller.