Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Review: Coyote

Coyote Coyote by Allen Steele
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I think as long as an author has good grammar, decent sentence structure, and basic storytelling skills, I will give them the benefit of the doubt. I believe I will try hard to like a book but sometimes, it just doesn't work. At the end of Coyote, I found I just couldn't like it despite the fact that I held on until the end.

The most annoying problem was what I refer to ask "carrot dangling". Sometimes in a narrative there will be vague references and allusions to the past or the future so that the reader is curious enough to keep reading. For example, a character might briefly remember bits and pieces of some bad accident from their youth and the reader hangs on until the details and complete story are revealed over time. I often felt this technique come up in Coyote unnaturally, and it brought my focus out of the story instead to critique the writer explicitly. There are a couple of examples I will provide to demonstrate why this was so annoying.

The first example is a case where the story was following a young girl and her relationships to two different boys. The next chapter was an excerpt from the same person's diary, written in her old age, describing events like a flashback. For no apparent reason, the woman refers to her husband as "my current partner". So when does someone writing in their diary not use first names, especially of those people close to them? Furthermore, no where else in the book was the term "partner" used like that – is she married or not? Why would she bring it up like that? It felt like a direct poke at the reader – "you're not supposed to know which boy she picked yet, so you have to keep reading."

Another example in same vein – we are still reading a woman's journal as she describes events from her youth that haven't happened yet in the primary narrative. She makes a reference to an adventure she went on that "cost a person's life." Really? When you're writing in your diary, you wouldn't just say how you miss so-and-so because they died on your adventure?

These details were really jarring to me and made it hard to empathize with any of the characters. Another reason that it was hard to empathize is that the story never really focused on one character. I think that as the reader I was supposed to care about the group as a whole – their survival and ability to start a new colony – but the motivations of everyone where so disjointed that instead I just felt tossed from one individual struggle to the next. If there was an underlying thread that was supposed to tie all the independent actions together, I never found it.

This is one book I can't see myself ever reading again, and probably won't even try any of the author's other works.

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