Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Obstacles by Chris Reardon

SUMMARY (from Goodreads): A child will die. You're afraid to live. Would you go to all lengths to save him? Darkness knows no bounds, as Alcott, an African American doctor sees all too well. The man is petrified by death. His fragile existence rests at the mercy of the universe. This fact is far too much for him to handle. From unyielding nightmares to elevator terrors, he's lost in paranoia.

Assigned to look after an ill child, Alcott's horrors only heighten. Gari is a nine-year-old boy with a fatal disease. He will surely pass on within the year. Alcott bonds with him more and more each day. Part of him knows this grim fate just isn't right.

Alcott befriends a hospital patient. This lunatic forces him to lug home an ancient text on bringing back the dead. Despite the man's obvious dementia, Alcott attempts the scheme. Charging up a cliff, he recites the chant over ocean gusts.

A god woman glides in from the horizon. She instructs Alcott on the trials to save Gari's life. These fearsome Obstacles require true strength. From battling sharks to wielding a flail, he must prove fortitude against genuine danger. Alcott decides his fate at this moment.
Death's claws shall not grasp Gari's soul.


Obstacles is Chris Reardon’s first novel, so I was willing to give it some leeway. However, there is only so much leeway I can give.

What I liked:

  • the premise of undertaking a Herculean-like quest in order to change fate and save someone from dying,
  • the lesson conveyed towards the end of the book, stressing the importance believing in oneself in order to succeed.

However, these were unfortunately overshadowed by what I didn’t like:

  • poorly developed characters:

    We don’t learn much about any of the characters. To start with, we never even learn what Gari’s illness is, or how Gari and Antuna can afford a live-in doctor, and what exactly Alcott does to help Gari.

    And is Alcott a first or a last name? We learn nothing about Alcott, besides the fact that he is a 30-something doctor (what kind of doctor?), though he acts and speaks like a teenager.

    Since I didn’t really get to know any of the characters, I didn’t care what happens to them and whether they succeed or fail.
  • in contrast with the lack of information about the characters, there is too much unnecessary repetition of easily-grasped data and concepts (I don’t need to be told the same thing five times, I’m not that stupid.)
  • the so-called obstacles, the tasks Alcott faces, are clich├ęd (sharks, labyrinth…) and there are just too many mythical elements from across cultures and genres (including humanoid aliens from Neptune) crammed together, all superficial and often rather silly.
  • poor vocabulary choices: it seems as if the author was trying too hard with the language, wanting to sound sophisticated, but it has the opposite effect – it sounds overdone, especially because of a modern setting and the first person POV narrative. Nobody thinks “we need to ‘dash’ out” and “i was ‘fatigued’“, do they?
  • the above said is in direct contrast with numerous grammatical errors, bad punctuation (so many ellipses), awkward or nonsensical phrasing (e.g. “I spark out” in the meaning “I say”), and colloquial language.
  • the scene structure is often illogical; for example, a person stands by the window and then goes to the window (without going away first), or a character faints again when that character hasn’t fainted yet in that scene.
  • And I could go on.

Overall, Obstacles suffers from insufficient revision and editing on all levels from content editing to proofreading. The teacher and the linguist in me were just itching the entire time to take a red pen and start jotting down corrections and suggestions for improvement. However, my time is too valuable to do that for free. Unfortunately, the editor, who is credited in the book and probably was paid, did a poor job.

Thus, Obstacles is basically a first draft with an interesting concept and possibly a potential of becoming a good, if not a great, book, but would need a few more rounds of revising and editing.

RECOMMENDATION: Clearly, I cannot recommend Obstacles, but if you have some time to spare and a will to try it, go ahead and form your own opinion.

1,5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Obstacles in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

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