From the Painted Stick, by Gordon Goulden

from-the-painted-stick-by-gordon-goulden coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: two stars
Book Review by Dennis Kriesel

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Peter Prougert is a teacher into meditation who can “dream” his past lives. Kevin is an aloof student that Peter takes notice of, though he isn’t sure why. Eventually, Peter comes to understand that Kevin has a role in the dreams from the past.

From the Painted Stick has the potential to be interesting, but never quite makes it. Goulden does know the mechanics of writing; his sentences are solid and the approach to presenting the story works well (I especially liked that the chapters alternate between Peter in the “now” and Peter in the past). The editing also is top-notch, and this print-on-demand book does not suffer from a plethora of spelling/grammar errors that sometimes seems common to materials produced via this means.

But, all that isn’t enough to make a story interesting. The “now” portions of the book are supposed to be from Peter’s diary. If that’s the case, then Peter is one of the most pretentious people imaginable. The vocabulary kills this story. It isn’t that it’s too simple; it’s that it’s too complex. I cannot believe people write in their diaries this way (e.g., “I could judge the integrity of the balance and contrast from an angle more conducive to full analysis.”). This is the sort of diary that one would expect to read that was written by someone who wanted and expected their diary to be read. That, too, would be okay, except the reader doesn’t get the impression that Peter is vain like that. It just doesn’t fit, and coping with a text riddled with big words is tiring.

The book also lacks a hook. Big-name authors often receive more leeway than those who are relatively obscure when it comes to where a hook must appear, but if I don’t see one in twenty pages I generally take that as a bad sign. I never got hooked on this book. It plodded along like a research text, never really stumbling but never really picking up speed. It doesn’t help that early on Peter has to express his opinions about the education system. Working in his ideology is fine, if it has a relevance. It really doesn’t. A rant, early on in a novel obtained for non-rant purposes, serves nothing except to alienate the reader. If I want an opinion on education’s treatment of the smartest students, then I’ll open up a newspaper. I never felt Peter’s concern regarding Kevin, even though it is constantly expressed. Kevin is so often mentioned, but rarely present, in the first half of the book that the reader is pressed to ever really care what happens with the boy.

The elements that take place in the past are better than the “now” scenes. The vocabulary doesn’t seem so concerned about maximizing fifteen-dollar words, and Goulden does a good job of painting the settings for the reader’s eyes. But, again there are some problems. Goulden sometimes focuses too much on mundane activities and not enough on keeping the story moving at an enjoyable pace. More noticeable is a dramatic shortage of names. People are commonly referred to as things like “Great Mother” and “Woman of Prowess”. Perhaps Goulden did this to convey a sense of the past, but it just makes things even less personal to the reader. Why should I care about what happens to any of these people, since the author treats them as mere objects?

The end result of all this is a book that couldn’t win me over. Goulden has all the knowledge and tools to write a good novel. He demonstrates this in his structure and writing style. But, for a novel to succeed you have to present a story that is interesting, and tell it in a convincing manner. From the Painted Stick starts off slow and never reaches critical velocity to escape its molasses-like pace.

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