Evilution, by Shaun Jeffrey

evilution-by-shaun-jeffrey coverGenre: Horror
Publisher: Invisible College Press
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: two stars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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Writing is about illusion. The story being told needs to unfold logically and believably, with the characters acting in a manner that remains true to the personalities the writer has imbued them with. In stories by less experienced authors (and sometimes experienced ones), it sometimes seems as though the characters act a certain way not because it stems naturally from the way they have been developed, but because it’s the way the authors needs them to act in order to advance the story.

We’ve seen it so often in movies that it’s become a stereotype. The storm has knocked out the lights, half the cast is gruesomely dead, the serial killer is lurking in the basement, and the young, nubile girl in the wet T-shirt is about to descend the stairs with a flashlight that has weak batteries. The audience groans, because in such a situation, who’d really do that? It’s happening that way because that’s what needs to happen to continue the movie, not because it makes sense based on the way a ‘real’ person would behave.

That sort of reaction plagued me often as I read Evilution.

Chase is down on her luck. Her boyfriend of some odd years has disappeared, she’s unemployed with no prospects and mounting bills, and things just generally aren’t going very well. So when she receives notice in the mail that she’s won a contest where the prize is a free house, she’s primed to accept it. She enlists her friend Jane and, when the sinister contest guy shows up, they jump into the limo, and then the helicopter, and depart for Paradise. Once there, she unravels the evil, secret plot, renews an old acquaintance and makes a few new ones, and generally has a hell of a time. For Paradise is anything but, and she’s trapped right in the middle of it.

A simple and interesting enough plot, but for me it often didn’t come across as character-driven as it needed to be. The author was easy to see, manipulating the strings to make his puppets dance.

The contest Chase wins is one she doesn’t remember entering. There’s no legible return address on the envelope. Attempts to contact the sponsoring company fail. She can’t find Paradise on a map. Then guy who appears to transport her new house is obviously sinister and unsavory. Yet she packs up and jumps and goes with him anyway. Why? Because if she didn’t, there wouldn’t be a story.

They can’t drive directly to the village, but instead must take a helicopter because a thick ring of fog surrounds the entire town. It’s not IN the town mind you, just around it in an impenetrable ring. Weather conditions, she’s told. Riiiiiight…. The people she meets in the village are beyond weird. They seem insane, and some are violent. The food available at the local grocer is free — white cans of supplies provided by the ‘government’ because the fog prevents people from getting into or out of the town. A fog, which Chase learns, has been in place for two years.

Despite these glaring circumstances (and more I didn’t list here), Chase moves through most of the story somewhat blithely, thinking ‘It seems like something strange is going on here….’ Well guess what honey? Something strange IS going on and the reader figured that out by page 10! Where were you?

This, to me, is a classic case of plot driven versus character driven. Things happen because the author needs them to happen and the characters behave the way the author needs them to behave. There are plenty of successful plot-driven books out there — Grisham for example. It’s not an original plot either; King and Koontz and others have mined it long and deep. You’ll find hints of their style here, and that’s not a bad thing.

But the best books are character-driven, where the people the author creates seem ‘real’, where the things they do makes sense, where the reader could say to himself/herself, ‘Yeah, that’s what I would have done too.’ Where the illusion is complete. I never had that here. I mostly had ‘I wouldn’t have done that and I don’t know many other people who would have either.’

I could always see the strings.

Lastly, Mr. Jeffrey needs to work on a particular aspect of his craft. He’s fond of ‘ing’ constructions. This type of construction can cause problems with sequence and make things appear to happen simultaneously, even when the reader knows they couldn’t have. Example: “Standing up off the couch, Joe opened the door.” This implies that Joe opened the door and stood up from the couch at the same time, when what really happened is that Joe stood up and then opened the door. Mr. Jeffrey uses this construction A LOT. Here are some specific examples from the book:

Making a cup of tea and some toast, she sat and contemplated the letter, absently wiping crumbs from the corner of her thin lips.

Walking down the stairs to the kitchen, she grimaced when she saw the empty wine bottles and she quickly drank several glasses of water and swallowed a couple of headache tablets before popping some bread into the toaster.

In the Turkey City Lexicon, this is called Not Simultaneous and is defined as: “The misuse of the present participle is a common structural sentence-fault for beginning writers. “Putting his key in the door, he leapt up the stairs and got his revolver out of the bureau.” Alas, our hero couldn’t do this even if his arms were forty feet long. This fault shades into “Ing Disease,” the tendency to pepper sentences with words ending in “-ing,” a grammatical construction which tends to confuse the proper sequence of events. (Attr. Damon Knight).”

Mr. Jeffery needs to pay particular attention to his ‘ing’ addiction and wean himself from it. He also needs to keep an eye out for the misplaced modifier: Entering the shop, a bell jangled above the door. I wonder what the bell wanted to buy when it entered the shop? Such mistakes and clumsy writing cast the entire work in an amateurish light.

Lest the above sound too negative, let me say that overall I enjoyed it. How could that be you ask? Glad you did, because I have the perfect analogy. There’s a big difference between watching professional baseball game and watching a little league game played by 10-12 year olds. But they can both be fun. Mr. Jeffrey’s first book is like that. There are problems, but there’s potential, and an undeniable energy and enthusiasm that is sometimes missing from big name authors. It’s obvious (at least to me) that Mr. Jeffry was having fun when he wrote this. That fun is infectious.

If you’re a horror fan and enjoy reading emerging talent, I can recommend this. If you only find satisfaction in the more professional and error-free (and sometimes dispassionate) play of the big leagues, you’re going to be disappointed.

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