Elixir…

3 of 5 stars
bookshelves: ya, to-read-2014, psychological, coming-of-age
Read from September 15 to 23, 2014 — I own a copy, read count: 1

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Self-published author Ted Galdi graduated from Duke University, where he acquired a background in film, and the various forms it has taken over the years. Through my brief conversation with him, the author seemingly absorbed and applied several literary techniques throughout the writing of his debut novel, Elixir.

Sean Malone is an 11-year-old Jeopardy! contestant, and with an IQ of approximately 250, his sheer wealth of knowledge at first felt somewhat contrived, unbelievable. As I compulsively flipped the pages, however, my opinion dramatically changed. Sean’s character became very real, even relatable. Galdi consistently takes relatively flat surfaces and imbues them with life. This applies to the locale(s) as well.
Fast forward three years and we see a slightly different, though not necessarily mature, protagonist. Enrolled at So Cal Tech and reluctantly attempting to complete a supposedly “unsolvable” mathematical equation for his professor and long-time mentor, Sean unsurprisingly solves the algorithm. This, in turn, propels the plot forward, as the calculations catch the attention of the DEA, resulting in a change of identity and location.
At this point, Elixir reminded me of the hit film, Mercury Rising, starring Bruce Willis. Having seen the film multiple times, I expected much of the same, only from a different perspective with similar circumstances. Sadly, the novel takes a drastic turn from there (not for the better, either, IMO,) and earnestly I’m not too sure if it fully recovers or not.

The changes didn’t deter me much, though, as I’d already invested too much. I needed to know where it was going. Not only that, but there was a nagging voice in the back of my head, insisting that there had to be something connecting the present with the aforementioned political intrigue. I was anticipating it very much and anxious to unlock the secrets, but to no avail. There are subtle connections that you learn later on, but not in the traditional sense and not what I wanted at all.

The most jarring aspect seemed to be Galdi’s choppy prose, which initially looked like a slightly polished rough draft. And it wasn’t until the 3/4 mark that I thought to ask him if his unique style was intentional, or merely a drawback of reading an ARC, and learned that it was, indeed, deliberate. Interestingly enough, Ted took his knowledge of film and utilized that here. For instance, there are an insurmountable instances where he omitted certain words in order to move the action along faster. Also evident are the absence of many commas (reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy,) making it essential to go back to clarify what I’d just read. In this way, his style is quite effective, despite my initial impressions.
Another way that it reads like a script are the short scenes/chapters which comprise the novel. These really emphasize dialogue, action, visualization and atmosphere, while limiting internal dialogue and “telling” the reader about character back history. Instead, he adheres the cardinal rule of good writing: “Show, Don’t Tell.”
Most impressive to me, I think, was how Galdi developed Sean’s character. (Natasha’s as well, to an extent.) He approached certain aspects from a single angle, then came back later from another direction entirely. Then another, etc.. In my experience, it’s rare that a writer attempts this technique, let alone pull it off successfully. I don’t think it’s an easy feat, either. Kuddos, Ted!

Towards the end, there were a couple elements that felt unrealistic, but overall I enjoyed it a lot. An impressive debut, needless to say. Regarding the three scenes in question, I suspect the author thought they’d propel the story forward, and to a degree that’s true. However, I think it’s dishonest writing and a disservice not only to his readers, but especially to himself.

If you’ve read this book and are interested in my problematic scenes, click here:(view spoiler)

“I think if we have something inside of us that’s…put there by nature for a reason. We shouldn’t repress it. We should listen to what it’s saying and not care too much about the consequences.”

Thank you again, Ted, for this wonderful opportunity!

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