This blog will touch on the experiences I have as a writer (not to be mistaken for my experience as a writer, i.e. how many books I've written, etc); the pleasure and the pain, the joy and the grief, the satisfaction and the frustration, the magic and the reality - have I left anything out, oh yeah, the rejection, rejection and more rejection, the humiliation and the embarrassment, the jealousy and the resentment - that pretty much covers it, except for why I do it which perhaps I'll realize along the way. Are you totally confused? Good, let's begin.
The Problem Children begins with Steve and Joan discussing their three children, 13-year old Steve Jr., 11-year old Mike and Samantha (Sam) just nine years old while they eat fresh cinnamon buns Joan has just baked. Yes, the opening is really as innocuous as it sounds.
Flash forward twenty-three years and Steve Jr. has taken over the family business after his aging father, four months before, was found shot in the head slumped over the wheel of his son Mike's car. Mike has disappeared and is wanted for murder.
Steve is gloating over his good fortune when in walks sister Sam with none other than brother Mike who apparently has been on the streets, his brain fried by drugs. Sam leaves and Mike, who is really faking it and not a vegetable at all, confronts Steve and accuses him of murdering their father and framing him. Steve admits it and takes out a gun and is about to kill Mike when the police intervene because Mike is wearing a wire and Steve's confession is all on tape.
This reader is now on page 20 and has had enough. Everything about The Problem Children is juvenile - the plot's weak, the dialogue is unnatural, the characters are one dimensional clichés, and the writing is pedestrian, but hold on there's still 238 pages to go. What is author Barb McIntyre going to write about considering the story for the most part appears to be over?
I keep reading.
In the subsequent two hundred pages McIntrye opens up a number of new plot lines. The first is how Mike uncovers Steve's motive for murdering his father. This is very specific and tedious made more so because the reader knows the outcome.
The second is about plastic surgery for facial scars. Somehow Steve, who is incarcerated, pays a person to throw acid in Mike's face as payback for tricking him into confessing. The details about Mike's recovery are long, detailed and have no bearing on the original story except the motive which is a stretch at best.
Neither is the relationship Mike strikes up with a woman who has Asperger's Syndrome, the third plot line. The symptoms and the therapies for this autistic disorder are somewhat interesting, but again unrelated to the original plot.
Then sister Sam has a car accident while impaired and goes to prison. Again there is some interesting reading about women in prison, but there is a disconnect between the characters, the chronology and the central theme of the story.
Finally, it dawns on this reader - there is no central theme other than the main characters are siblings. McIntrye has basically written three stories: a son murdering his father and framing his brother and how it's resolved; a romance between a disfigured man and a woman with Asperger's; and a story about a woman whose life begins to unravel at middle age when her husband leaves her and she's convicted and jailed for impaired driving.
Novels such as these, with more than one protagonist and multiple plot lines need to be skillfully interwoven, their narratives progressing chronologically and stories arcing simultaneously. Anna Quindlen can do it and so can Jean Thompson, but unfortunately Barb McIntyre is not up to the task. What we're presented with seems like three separate stories stuck together.
Much of the plot(s) lacks originality. For example information Mike uncovers about Steve's involvement in his father's murder would have easily been revealed in the most rudimentary police investigation - financials irregularities, soft alibis, circumstantial evidence, conflicting stories. Sam's marriage breakup is one big cliché - the motives and the dialogue.
The narrative is also plagued by anecdotal stories that impede the pace while doing little to advance the plot or develop character.
The "telling" rather than "showing " style of writing also sucks the energy from the work. The reader is most often told what has happened and never actually shown with in the moment scenes incorporating dialogue and action. This distances the reader from the story and makes for boring reading.
For example, when Sam goes for her parole hearing instead of writing a compelling scene with action and dialogue the author tells us what transpired, like reading it in a letter
The Problem Children appears to be professionally formatted and presented. I didn't come across a single typo or spelling mistake. Unfortunately, I downloaded a pdf version and read it on my Mac and for some digital mystery all quotes (") and apostrohes (') are missing.
Authors need to be diligent and make sure formatting is not corrupted for any device. You owe it to your work and your readers.
I received The Problem Children free from Story Cartel in exchange for an honest review and as part of my ongoing commitment to review the work of self-published authors.