by George Dawes, Grand Central Publishing, 2009, 336 pp; $24.99
It's an advertising ploy publishers should really try to avoid because it generally leads to disappointment. The "10, 15, 20 years in the making" hook, is about as valid a reason to spend 25 bucks on a book as the "New York Times Bestselling author of …" notice stamped across the dust jacket.
When tempted by this line simply remember — Tori Spelling's had TWO New York Times Best-selling books. Do you know anyone that's read either of them? I bet not.
Writing a novel is without a doubt a grueling task, especially for first-time authors. The journey from initial idea to Books-A-Million display is usually years, if not decades, in the making.
And when that first novel is a hit — critically or otherwise — audiences clamor for more, but some authors make us wait … and wait … and wait, finally to the point where when a new book is finally published, it's treated as a triumphant return based solely on the success of the first.
Thus the "… it's been 20 years since readers first fell in love with …" (Place forgotten author's name here). And we so easily fall for it, only to be disappointed some 300 pages later.
Consider it the follow-up syndrome. The sophomore slump. Whatever.
For a current example, see Scott Smith. Smith's debut, A Simple Plan was a wonderfully taut, suspenseful, crime novel that reinvigorated the genre. His follow-up The Ruins, published some 14 years later about a bunch of kids vacationing in Mexico only to end up being held captive by man-eating vines, was a horror novel that was just plain horrible.
And then along comes Georgia's own George Dawes Green with Ravens. Some 14 years after he vanished from the best seller list, Green, author of the brilliant Caveman's Valentine, makes his triumphant return to fiction with a predictable book about a couple of losers who scheme to rip off a Bible-belt family of their $318 million lottery winnings.
Ravens isn't an awful novel. In fact, it's very well written with characters that readers will be rooting for and against in equal measure. The story itself, though stagnant it parts is suspenseful, perhaps even thrilling, and Green's take on Southern religions fanaticism borders on brilliant.
But 14 years? That's a might long time for what could just as easily have been any other crime novel written by the throng of cookie-cutter authors whose name alone sells copies for reasons that defy logic.
The disappointment with Ravens isn't the so much the novel itself, but rather the novelist. After so long in between efforts, one can't help but expect more from a novelist of Green's gifts and accomplishments. But perhaps this is just the one meant to tide readers over until the REAL book is published.