Evil Monkey: How’s the novel going?
Jeff: Very well.
Evil Monkey: Why do you look so cross-eyed?
Jeff: Just surfaced long enough to read this review by John Clute. It’s pretty much incomprehensible in places.
Evil Monkey: It’s not full of itself! It’s just full. I like when he uses the royal “we,” though. It’s cute. And when he explains things like “fix-up” and “suite”.
Jeff: Did you read it?
Evil Monkey: Yes. Should I translate it for you.
Jeff: Please do.
Evil Monkey: I’ve been doing this a lot lately. Here goes:
The Commons by Matthew Hughes is a fix-up novel in which a suite of stories has been laid out in chronological order, with a few added transitions. The problem with this kind of “fix-up” is that causality can suffer; what would be plot in a novel becomes merely a series of events.
Hughes doesn’t make any great leaps with the stories that comprise The Commons; the holistic quality of the experience doesn’t provide anything approaching some final epiphany, and thus the reader experiences, to use a scientific comparison, a physical rather than a chemical reaction.
But the main reason it was hard to like the book is because Hughes has been so clearly influenced by Jack Vance’s Dying Earth story suite, even though his own unique goals might have been better served by a different master. Vance embedded simple characters into a complex world as a way to make sense of that world. Hughes tries to use his own simple characters not as windows to his world but as agents of change in the world. The characters and the style are not up to the strain of this repurposing…
Jeff: That’s only the first part of the review.
Evil Monkey: The longer it goes on the more it devolves into the ramblings of a madman. I have not the time.
Jeff: I just thought I was stupid.
Evil Monkey: Not this time. Listen to this: “How close The Commons veers towards disaster, all the same, this review deposes backhandedly.”
Jeff: Do I have to listen to that? Is it brilliant?
Evil Monkey: No more brilliant than a review can ever be, Son of Squid! Now go forth and write thy novel! I shall assume a sitting position for all the holiday brickbats headed this way. For you too O Mushroom Child, O Ghost of Judgment Hasty, hath upon a raw day written a bloviated sentence or an under-weathered one. Cast not the first stoned hippy for if you do, he will be cast back upon you, and you shall have to feed him through the holidays! Avaunt!