Score: 86/100 (8.6 out of 10)
A How Pretty Town is a peculiar yet fascinating pseudo-memoir by Bruce Evans. The book takes the perspective of a precocious wordsmith, writer, and sportsman, Wayne Adams, as he comes of age in a rapidly changing and developing Edmonds community in the great state of Washington. This book is written from the perspective of an older Wayne as he looks back at his life.
Right off the bat, the first thing that will jump out to readers about the book is that the style of writing is extremely unique and different. It is simultaneously bizarre yet eloquent. It is both obnoxious yet beautiful. What do we mean by that?
Well, the writer seemingly has an obsession with mashing up and listing words, especially adjectives, one after the other after the other. Cunningly. Cleverly. Coccooningly. A lot of this book somewhat reads like a series of lists, divided either by commas, periods, or em-dashes.
We get it. It's the author's unique, experimental writing style that they're really super proud of. The author elaborates on that later in the book.
The narrator tell us that they've “always been averse to the plain style” and is rather “attracted to distinctive styles.” They like to “[p]eel off the hair shirt of prosaic prose and slip into something lycral, lyrical, liberating...” You mean lycral like the stretchy lycra fabric?
They make reference to loving “long looping
They “love textual richness, density, variety...” and allude to this style of writing being rhythmic and musical like jazz. They then go on a tangent of choppy sentence fragments and run-on sentences describing how profound and special this writing style is. A lot of the times, it just came across as rambling, ridiculous, and unnecessary.
Speaking of these word salad lists, here are some examples from the book:
“...sporadically, usually, seemingly random or incongruous, often--from his buffering unconscious, his mind, itself a fiction, grasping as many of them as it could as they sought to wriggle free, then consciously buffering and buffing some, rebuffing others, rearranging, rewording, or discarding, he could become a fiction-maker, an orderer, an executor, a self. He waited, scribbled, waited some more, scribbled, revised the scribbles.”
“…neologisms, oronyms, aptronyms, eggcorns, oxymorons, onomastics, anagrams, palindromes, puns, double entendres, word searches, cryptics.”
“...the kind of crazy talk, jibber-jabber, jubjubbing, turgid, burbling, whiffling, bantering, inaccurate, imprecise, obfuscating, fulminating, bullshitting nonsense to be found everywhere--in boroughs and groves, in homes and rathskellers.”
It's almost as if the author discovered a thesaurus and just went wild with it. That's not to say that there aren't times when the writing is impressive. The author clearly has a talent for using alliteration and emphasizing a feeling or a mood. The one moment that stands out to us is “cuddling, cocconing.”
However, this wordy, loopy, convoluted, circular writing style did bother us as being over-the-top and unnecessary.
This is especially an issue considering that this book can take over 12 hours to get through despite only being 280 pages long, due in large part to these word lists/word salads full of words that mostly mean the same thing or convey the same idea. Remember: you don't need to say the same thing more than once. You should write either “boom” or “bang,” not both. Being brief, concise, and efficient with language is more important than being wordy, complex, and trying to impress everyone with how many words you know. The truth is: most people don't care about that, they just want to read a good story told in a way that respects their time, patience, and intelligence.
Keep in mind, we had similar issues with General Jack and the Battle of the Five Kingdoms earlier in the year, and that book still won us over with its great overall story and characters.
Thankfully, A How Pretty Town also comes through as being a relatively interesting, coming-of-age, period piece. The majority of the book takes place during the middle of the 20th century, meaning that Wayne is alive during some of the the turbulent events of that period, and the world has changed substantially from the time Wayne was born to his golden/twilight years.
The book also doubles as a sort of sports drama since Wayne was heavily involved in competitive sports when he was younger.
We have a few more things to discuss...
Now, the formatting is also rough. Why are there no indentations between paragraphs and lines of dialogue? Why are there brackets and parenthesis everywhere?
This could definitely use an editor's or proofreader's touch.
Another thing to note is that Wayne, while a very interesting character, is also a realistic and a pessimist. He reminded us a lot of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. He views even the splitting of the cell in reproduction as a kind of “violence.” He is an example of someone who might just be too smart for his own good, similar to Sheldon and the rest of the Big Bang cast. Being a genius doesn't mean you are immune to being dense and stupid in other ways, and Wayne often fits the bill. Wayne could probably figure out how time travel works before he could figure out relationships with other human beings.
He seems to view everything from an unemotional, detached lens. Human beings are intelligent animals, yet still animals. The purpose of life is to live and die. To Wayne, there is no god except his own fictional god who is “hella more rational, is relational, is beautiful, sexy, transformative...” and whom Stephen Hawking apparently called his “ontic clout.” This is just how Wayne thinks and how he is as a character.
One last thing that is incredibly bizarre and strange about this book is that Wayne is constantly called the “Old Man” even when he is deep into reflecting on his youth. This might not seem like such a big deal, but it becomes a bit creepy and uncomfortable when he starts describing his sexual encounters (with then-young women) in great, erotic detail, all the while still referred to as “the Old Man.” Now, logically, you know that he isn't old at the time of these acts, but it's still weird. It's also funny when he's doing very athletic acts like throwing or kicking, but he is still referred to as “the Old Man.”
Update: apparently, Wayne was an EXCELLENT and determined athlete even into his older years, even earning top honors in the Senior Games in Utah!
Anyway, this book does need some work, but the author is clearly a talented wordsmith in his own right and has a good story to tell.
Check it out on Amazon!