Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates

Black Chalk
by Christopher J. Yates
2013
**
2 stars - good enough if you want a distraction
ALR Blue - no animals


Six college freshmen join forces to play a game. The game involves some (unexplained) combination of dice and cards which determine points. Points then require participants to draw from buckets of consequences. The consequences are rated according to difficulty. The only rule is that none shall involve physical harm. They are designed to provide an increasing amount of social and personal discomfort to the individual. Dares become progressively more personal and humiliating.

I caught the end of a discussion about this book on my local NPR station and was left with the admonition to read it without trying to learn too much about it first. Fair enough.

One thing I will make clear. Mr. Yates is a good writer. He understands pacing, the use of dialog, settings, all that stuff. I imagine that his book might have presented in a different way at first and possibly got dumbed down by an editor seeking mass appeal.

Here's how.

First 100 pages or so. Super. Five stars. Couldn't wait to see what happened next.

Then the descent.

One star dropped when I realized he wasn't really giving the reader anything to challenge them. There were no clues dropped to be picked up later. Every part of the story was told directly and there was nothing to know or suss out until you were told. Even worse, the reader was informed what the "surprises" would be in that every reveal was prepped well in advance. As in, somebody dies, OK, now I just have to wait for him to tell me who.

Another star dropped when I lost interest in the characters. Their introductions were great, but the author never delved any deeper. By midpoint, I had a bunch of goofy, naive, twenty somethings whose back stories were told with a style as flat as that of an instruction manual.

Now down to three stars, but I was still staying up late to find out what he was going to do. You see, I was still hoping he'd give me something cool and thought provoking.

Nope. Last 50 pages. Ugh. The ending? Super ugh. 

This book gave me nothing to think about afterwards other than how disappointed I was. By the end, the entire premise, rather than being foreboding, was just dumb. The fate of the characters uninteresting. The conclusion itself, rather than an "oh wow, so that's what it was all about" was just one more page to read.

Footnote. I'd give the author one star back if this book had been found in the young adults section of the library. As a cautionary tale for teens and kids in their early twenties, it works.

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