Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dragonfire Dreams (Wayne Saalman, 2015)

DISCLOSURE: I was sent a review copy of this book, as the author is a friend of a friend of mine, and I was asked to review it as a favor.

Peter Skyler's dreams of rock 'n' roll immortality shatter when a gunman enters the nightclub his band will be having their first big gig at, shooting out a giant disco ball to create chaos in which he can escape from police pursuit.  Skyler's girlfriend, Shannon, happens to be under the disco ball at the time.  At the same time, Skyler's band-mates need to flee an undercover cop seeking to bust them for drug use.  When Skyler follows them, Shannon, hospitalized, ends their relationship, eager to get away from the hollow glamour of the music industry.  Skyler embarks on a cross-country trip of discovery, while footage of Shannon being doused in burning glass shards finds its way on to the internet, where a "shock artist" edits the video to appeal to sexual sadists.  The video's biggest fan, fleeing a double-homicide of his own, reinvents himself as a similar "artist" out to recreate Shannon's horrific experience, and glut his sexual desires with her, willing or not.

Truth be told...I didn't care for this book.  And I hate saying that, but I simply did not enjoy reading it.  At no point did the action hook me, at no point did reading the book cease to feel like a chore and become a joy.  It took me over a month to read this 608-page novel, something that should have taken me a week.

The book moves very slowly, even sluggishly at times, which seems to me the kiss of death to a book marketed as a suspenseful thriller.  There is very little tension for much of the book, instead devoting a significant chunk of its page-count to being a mouthpiece for the author's devotion to Jack Kerouac.  He is quoted in epigrams at the beginning of chapters and cited in dialogue as an inspiration for the characters' actions.

Let me repeat that.  The characters talk to each other about how their actions are in tribute to Jack Kerouac and the book On The Road.  It didn't take me long to start to feel bludgeoned by this - did the author think his readers weren't going to get the connection if he didn't spell it out explicitly?

The characters, even our protagonist, are for the most part poorly-sketched out, with several characters being basically indistinguishable from each other - and most of them presented as fundamentally selfish, self-centered individuals who will sit there and rationalize for pages to explain why they're in the right in what they do and how those who disagree are wronging them.  They prevarication-dance Skyler does to justify why he left with his band-mates instead of following the EMTs with Shannon to the hospital, and then why it's unfair of her to suggest, from her hospital bed, that maybe he should find band-mates who aren't going to do heroin in the dressing room, is staggering.

Even more staggering, at one point, after emptying two handguns into two innocent civilians, a character flees the scene while rationalizing that he's a peaceful person who would never harm a fly, honest, and they made him kill them, he didn't want to but they left him no choice...After a while, it becomes nauseating to read.

The author's interest in New Age and occult material likewise comes through in the text; words are lavished on describing a character reading a book about reptilian conspiracies and how compelling these ideas are, while other characters seem to receive mystic visions or see ghosts, and debate spiritual awakenings, especially in the latter half of the book.  It seems out of place in what had begun as a serious thriller set in the real world.  It felt like a hard left turn to me when it started to happen.

All in all, I'm sorry to say I can't recommend this book.  I got no enjoyment out of it; I just grew more and more irritable as I continued to read it, and eventually was simply angry with myself that I was continuing to read this book instead of picking something more enjoyable off my shelf.

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