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Lacking in parts
on 12 June 2014
I found this free on Amazon recently and it took me around three days of intermittent reading to complete the whole novel.
While it is clear that the author has tried hard to emulate and reproduce certain elements of storytelling within his work that he admires in other published works or classics, this, (unfortunately, as I really wanted to like it) is essentially just a rather rambling piece of amateur fiction.
The characters, for the most part, are well-formed and basically interesting (some more so than others), but the dialogue between them falls down at several key moments, with verbal text becoming trite - even tacky - in places.
The plot itself seems rather rushed, even for a short novel, and what comes across as a somewhat 'afterthought' ending is very disappointing. It would appear that the author became tired of writing and wanted to wrap things up quickly - interesting, since one gets a strong impression when reading the rest of his story that he has spent quite some time studying and following writers' 'recipe books' in the hope of constructing the perfect tale. Sadly, though, he has failed to realise that a great piece of art comes naturally - no amount of emulation or information will ever lead to something truly original.
With regards to the story as a whole, on the one hand, A.J. Reid has neglected several important aspects of storywriting that make for a rich plot, preferring instead to only focus in great detail on the dramatic elements he has included in his tale (namely sex and violence), perhaps in an attempt to shock, or appeal to, the less sophisticated reader. On the other, he has clearly very much 'overthought' his piece, infecting it with a mechanical undertone that doesn't flow well on the page.
It is my theory that perhaps Reid became too 'connected' with his characters (after all, elsewhere on the web he states that this story is based on real-life experiences). I see this novel, perhaps, as one man's mission to portray himself through fiction in the way that he would like others to see him in the flesh - a common 'trigger' among some of our very best-loved authors, sparking various truly inspired works. This attempt, however, sadly falls flat. The overall vibe I get from A.J. Reid is one of confusion and frustration, which I am sorry to say shines like a beacon through the plot holes in his work.
Saying that, there are good things to be remarked upon too. The idea behind the story, with a lot more work, could be a very promising one. There are several fairly amusing moments, some nice descriptive images and an overall good understanding of the English language; A.J. Reid would certainly make a decent columnist. 'A Smaller Hell' is not, however, one that will 'go the distance' in my opinion. Two stars. **