Occasionally, I come across a book that frustrates me to no end, but I still enjoy it. Messages is such a book.
Something or someone–God perhaps?–sends the main character, David Chance, messages by means of words highlighted from various sources. One word from a billboard, another from a newspaper, a third from a coffee cup. String them together, and David receives instruction that can save lives. One of those messages gives him two days to save the president. Great premise.
Although a bit preachy in places (even though I loved and agreed with the “sermons” provided), the story is action packed and fast paced, with convincing bad guys and determined good guys and unusual—though sometimes too convenient—twists.
While the main character was a reluctant hero, being the receiver of both messages and sermons and the occasional actor of heroic deeds, another POV character, a TV newswoman named Karen Watson, often seemed more heroic.
But what frustrated me most? Gimmicky writing. For instance:
The line grew smaller and David had no plan. He scanned the room, letting his eyes bounce off words, but only a string of nonsense appeared. Great! I’m stuck in a stupid coffee shop while right next door a famous Senator is creating a media frenzy! HELLO! The line reduced again. The man in the red shirt was at the counter now, and David was next. He snatched up a menu and bounced his eyes back and forth. Nothing. I followed the man in the shirt! Where are you? What am I supposed to do?
See all the italics and exclamation points and even the all-capped hello? In this one paragraph, it isn’t so bad, but page after page of this gets old. The writer is telling me how to read his work, which is both unnecessary and distracting. He also uses double hyphens instead of dashes. Perhaps he doesn’t know how to make a dash, but it’s incredibly distracting, especially when even a dash wouldn’t be appropriate used the way he used them.
Thing is, his writing is strong enough that he doesn’t need to use gimmicks. He uses descriptive nouns and high-impact verbs. A deep POV doesn’t require italics to let us into the character’s head. We’re already there. Exclamation points are fine occasionally, but become diluted in purpose when used so frequently (and I do mean frequently). And all caps? There are few valid reasons to shout at the reader, but he does so often. I admit, seeing this one example would make you think I was being petty. Perhaps I’ve been an editor too long and things like this get to me. But seems to me, the last thing an author would want to do is to yank his reader out of the story with distractions. And that’s exactly what this author did.
But I still liked the book. I still enjoyed the action, still flipped pages with anticipation, wanting to know what would happen next. So, yes, this is a frustrating but good book. I give it three stars.