Monday, October 8, 2007

Building an Elephant

Building an Elephant, by Sean Ferrell, has just recently come online at The Adirondack Review. This was the first piece of fiction I've read by Sean, though I have been keeping up with his blog for some time. Needless to say, I was really impressed by it -- hence this post.

First, my few small complaints. I felt like there was a pattern of occasional missing commas, which I suppose is a fairly minor grammatical quibble (and I have a tendency to use too many commas, so I have little room to talk). There were also a few cases where I would have liked to have a little more description of the emotion felt by the characters. "I felt happy about that" is perhaps the example that jumped out at me the most -- this really seems like a "show, don't tell" moment.

However, that's pretty much all I can say that is negative about this story, and that's really saying something (I'm very nit-picky, even with multi-published novelists). The ideas behind Building an Elephant are really what captured me most of all, though the voice is also quite strong, the writing is solid and efficient, and the descriptions are vivid. You can tell that this author knows what he is doing, in effect.

I don't want to spoil the plot, which is quite surprising given the opening, so I won't discuss the specifics here. Suffice it to say that Sean Ferrell isn't just bragging when he says that his work is cross-genre, and off the beaten path (in a good way). This is a science fiction story, but it doesn't really have the tone or feel of that genre (and I'm a fan of that genre, so I should know). The way that the science-fiction elements are described in this story felt more like magic realism to me, albeit with sci-fi elements in place of the magic.

I suppose my one other quibble would be that this story was rather guy-focused, with the girl next door being more the traditional "girl-next-door sex object" than a true character, but even this was handled in an adept, interesting way. This story is, at heart, a story about a teenage boy and his father, and I thought Sean very much captured the proper tone for that. The sci-fi elements are brilliantly woven in to this basic narrative fabric, and provide both world richness and interesting plot devices, while also raising a great many ancillary questions.

The greatest praise that I can give this or any story is that it made me think. I read this last night, and found myself thinking about the characters and world of this story as I went to sleep. Off and on today I've still been thinking about it, and thus was compelled to write this mini-review, which I don't normally do (actually, I don't think I've ever done this before). The sci-fi elements in some ways inhabit the edges of this story, but they were what made me think the most -- and the way in which they were presented (as just part of ordinary life, too "mundane" for much background explanation) is a big part of what made this such a compelling read. I wouldn't have ever thought of telling this story quite like this, but the story is definitely the better for it.

I don't feel there's any value in trying to give this some sort of arbitrary score or rating, so I'll just end on this note: go read it.

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