The Book of Joe, by author Jonathan Tropper, has killer premise that should make all inspiring writers jealous. Joe, an author made famous by writing a book that tears apart his hometown, must return to be with his sick father. He must now contend with the truths he wrote about head on. What a hook!
This is where the jealousy ends. The Book of Joe is letdown by Tropper’s amateurish writing, careless pacing and unlikable characters. What was a concept that might have rivaled The Silver Linings Playbook is, quiet frankly, a mess.
The idea of this story is that Joe was wrong to write about his town the way he did, exaggerating the truth and making people look bad. Except, when we meet the people in his town, they all come across as jerks and losers. That makes sense in terms of how they would act to Joe but there’s never the other side of the coin. Everyone comes across as very one dimensional and I never believed they had much cause to be offended by how they were portrayed in Joe’s novel. Maybe that’s my natural disdain for small town drama, but I couldn’t care for any of these people, and I was never given reason to otherwise.
Joe’s realization of his wrong doing, the wrong doing I wasn’t invested in, comes way to quickly for a book like this. He states how much he hates the town and never looked back for the first couple of chapters but as soon as he enters city limits, his whole character changes. Suddenly, without much prodding or reason, Joe is navel gazing about how important his time here actually was, leaving very little room for growth.
There’s quite a bit of flashbacks, showing us the one summer that changed everything for Joe. The problem with these is that they actually revolve around Joe’s friends and the main character becomes a spectator. When Joe goes on and on about how that summer effected him, it’s weakened by the events we’re presented with. In fact, very little in the book actually needs Joe around. He’s a witness to important events but not a key component to them. Yes, he has girlfriend in his teen years, but I never understood what she saw in Joe.
Joe’s whinny, navel gazing attitude is rewarded with wisdom, closure and sex by those he left behind all those years ago. Everyone, including Joe’s ex-girlfriend Carly, gives this unlikable character the attention he craves but doesn’t deserve. There’s no challenges Joe has to overcome to grow and become a better person, everyone does it for him. Joe’s brother concedes, the high school coach apologizes, Carly kisses him, all of these things fix Joe but he doesn’t have to put in any of the work.
Every character, especially Joe, has an in-depth and analytical view of their psychological well-being and can express it at the drop of a hat. Subtlety is a non-resident of this town. Joe’s emotional journeys last all of a page and he moves quickly onto the next. In the end, very little closure is given. Joe’s book isn’t forgiven, Carly is willing to give him another shot, his family might be falling apart, but it doesn’t matter because he’s writing again. And the view on writing is the most flowery kind. It’s the type where everything simply “flows” and characters are “discovered” along the way. How books are written this way is beyond me, but maybe that’s how we end up with something like The Book of Joe.
It fails at being poetic, at being deep, it’s not funny or insightful and has nothing to say about small town living or guilt from past mistakes. What a waste of a great idea.
J. L. Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon is written as journal entries. The whole book is journal entries. Reading the book is liking reading a journal, because the book is written in journal entries.
I hope I got across that this book is written as journal entries because that’s the one and only interesting thing about zombie-tale Day by Day Armageddon. I’m not being too harsh either, since most of the marketing and blurbs about the book are about how it’s written. But, where as Max Brooks’ modern classic, World War Z, used a unique format to tell enthralling zombie stories, Bourne uses his style to hide a dull, plodding book.
The beginning of the book starts out strong enough, with an account of how the zombie apocalypse comes about and how it escalates. The cause and effect of the early chapters works because there’s momentum in the dominoes of the modern world toppling over. But, even then, cracks begin to show.
Bourne reveals his amateurish writing from the beginning. I don’t want to call it lazy, because laziness doesn’t complete a book. But, you can write a novel without having much skill in the art. There’s an overemphasis on descriptions, from locations to activities. As we follow our main character, every step he takes is accounted for, even if he does the same things everyday. Now, that could be interesting, as it could be an examination of how monotony can ruin a person’s psyche, especially in survival situations. That’s what Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is all about and it’s fascinating.
Unfortunately for Day by Day Armageddon, Bourne isn’t up to the task. He rarely brings psychological ramifications to light and, when he does, they’re random and thrown away quickly. Thoughts like “Why am I still trying to live?” and “What’s the point of tomorrow?” are ignored as quickly as they arrive. Either Bourne isn’t interested in that type of story, or he thinks these quick snippets are enough.
Now, not focusing on the psychology of the character would be fine if that’s not the type of story Bourne wants to tell. But, I’m not sure what he is trying to say. Day by Day Armageddon isn’t an action story and it’s hard to feel tension when we know the character had to survive to tell the tale. It’s not a book about relationships falling apart or the evil nature of humanity. None of the characters have enough depth to invest in and there’s no dialog to learn from. There is a group of survivors who show up and cause trouble for the main group, but they’re taken care of without much fanfare.
Without any unique perspective or point of view, Day by Day Armageddon is just a daily account of someone taking the bus to the office. Except, even that type of story could be interesting if it had the right focus. Here, we’re reading about survival without purpose. The book doesn’t end with a cliffhanger or closure, it just ends. There’s no inertia given for the reader to want to continue the series. Bourne shows he has the commitment to write a book and get the technicality of it down, but he doesn’t have the skill to make it something worth reading.
If you’ve read more than the first book, maybe you can tell me if he gets any better as a writer. I doubt it, but I won’t be finding out for myself. Day by Day Armageddon is a book I wouldn’t recommend, even if you were desperate for zombie fiction. Maybe, when this book was written in 2010, we had less options and would read anything we could find. Today, you could spend years reading zombie apocalypses and never need to pick this up.
This is going to be short because I didn’t like this book from the very beginning. I could tell from the way paragraphs would read like so,
See. That’s annoying. It tells you nothing while acting like it’s intense. It’s not intense. It’s stupid. So is this,
How was that? She said something and then repeated that something with emphasis. How would it be if you were reading a book that started every other paragraph like that? Cause I can attest that it’s the worst.
Let’s just get to what the book is about. A woman, we’ll call her Lo because obviously that’s short for Laura, is on a cruise ship and she hears a body fall into the water. Now, I know what you’re thinking, how did she hear a body fall in the water if she was in her cabin on a moving cruise ship in the middle of the ocean. Simply, she just heard it. She knew, instantly, it was not the sound of waves, or dolphins or a bag of oranges. It was a body.
I don’t know how forgiving you can be but for me, I couldn’t get past the inciting incident. It reads incredibly childish and ruins the whole book for me. Because no one else believes Lo that she heard a body and all I could think was, “Well, yeah, no duh.” Why should they? Who would? And when Lo is mad at everyone for not believing her, she comes across annoying and fairly stupid. Oblivious, even. And she references Wikipedia ALL THE TIME. It’s her only investigation ability. Lo is not a likable character and since the whole book is told in her point of view, the relationship between story and reader is strained from the very beginning.
It’s a long book for how little actual mystery is present. It drags too long for a thriller. It takes a quarter of the book before Lo is even on the the boat, let alone for the obvious body-hitting-ocean sound to take place. The reveal isn’t interesting, the climax is underwhelming and I just wanted to close the book for good. There’s chapters that take place back on dry land that might hint at the outcome, but they’re underwhelming and fail to add any momentum.
I’ve said before I don’t love mysteries, but this is just bad literature. I know this was selling like crazy, it was on the New York Times Best Sellers list forever but it doesn’t matter. All those people got duped. This was not a dark and mature story akin to Gone Girl nor is it as intense of a mystery as Girl on a Train. I will not be trying another book that claims to be “in the style of” those titles again. I’m done. I’m out.