A supernatural story.
This week’s book has some imaginative ideas that pulled me right in. I love a good magical or supernatural story, especially if there’s a bit of mystery involved. And I confess I grabbed this book without reading the blurb first. What can I say? Old (bad) habits die hard. So, without further ado, here is my breakdown. (Oh yeah. There will be affiliate links after this point that help support my blog.)
The Touch: A Supernatural Story, by Robert E. Flynn III, has some things really working for it, as I mentioned before. Told in the third person, the narrative alternates character focus in different chapters with clean transitions. And the opening chapters really set up a lot of questions. What is going on in the oncology ward? And is that boy a ghost or something? As the story progresses, the questions begin to grow (and are ultimately answered). However, a few issues interfere with the unspooling of this supernatural tale.
Verbal exchanges between the characters sometimes felt overly vague and stilted. Oftentimes characters would rush in and make on-the-nose statements about their supernatural experiences that seemed forced. Also, the characters range in age from children to an adult in her 60s. In addition to this, there are characters from different socioeconomic backgrounds and countries. However, most of the characters use similar diction, pacing, and expressions when they speak. This is especially noticeable with the children. In my opinion, the only character with a unique voice was the Realtor (who is a minor character).
A great deal of the story describes the main characters’ supernatural experiences as they wrestle with positive and negative emotions. Though sometimes the experience is described in clear terms with strong adjectives and similes, many times it is not. When we are told how the character feels instead of being immersed in the experience, it feels repetitious and dull. Why begin to ask why we are revisiting a concept which has not changed.
This is a relatively minor issue, but it did pull me out of the story for a bit. The first main character in the narrative is Alabama. She is set up as THE vessel for a supernatural mission, but it turns out her role is somewhat secondary. There is also the orphan, Josh. Initially, when Gabriel describes his supernatural experiences, Josh is surprised. However, later on the narrative treats Josh as one of the children who has also experienced the voice his whole life. This waffling over who is “chosen” and who is not is a bit confusing.
This book throws out slurs against mental illness right and left. And it propagates some potentially harmful stereotypes about autism. Now, I am by no means an expert on autism and have made my own mistakes with writing about the spectrum in the past. However, after listening to several autistic people discuss harmful representation, I believe this story may fall into that category. It clearly isn’t written with overt or malicious intent. But it does make some assumptions and generalizations about people with autism that aren’t necessarily true. (Feel free to learn more about autism at the Autism Self Advocacy Network.)
This book has a lot of potential. It does an excellent job of setting up intriguing questions and not answering them right away. There are some biblical threads, so keep that in mind. Overall, it’s pretty creative.
Update: The author reached out to me and gave me permission to share this message which gives some insight into his process and what to expect in coming books.
Hello Ditrie! My name is Robert Flynn and I wanted to tell you I appreciated your review of my book! You were pretty dead-on with most of your critical input and just so you know, I am listening.
This is a first novel for me and I am working on the second installment in this short series. I am learning as I go and believe me, I realized many of the shortcomings you mentioned after I had a chance to absorb what I had written.
For example, you mentioned the monotony of the voice experiences. I think when I do the next edit, I will try to carve out some of that repetition. I also will try to find a way to add more nuance to a difficult literary problem with that situation.
Also, in terms of all the children speaking in the same way, even those from another country, I did not really concern myself with that. I mentioned they were all schooled in English and had access to modern technology to some degree, and it did not seem to be an issue for me. Possibly, I was mistaken and I will try to look at that again as well.
In terms of Josh, he heard the voice his entire life as well, but in more of a whisper. Josh is part of the plan and so is Alabama. More to be revealed in the next book! Again, I appreciate you taking the time to read and review it.
I’m grateful that my review is helping someone improve their craft. And I also appreciate this author’s humility and honesty. I’m looking forward to reading whatever he writes next.
The Touch: A Supernatural Story
Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars
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