Saturday, November 10, 2012

Merrill, The Final Act (2012)

F.R. Merrill, The Final Act: From Woodstock to Broadway. From Death to Eternity. Red Fox Publishing, 2012. Pp. 266. ISBN 978-1466214941. $12.95 print/$9.99 Kindle.

Reviewed by Jessica Nelson

Faith Straton has just gotten her big break. She had always loved the Native American stories her grandmother used to tell her. After her dreams of dancing on Broadway fell to the wayside, Faith became a dance instructor. Over time, she decided to merge her passions, so Faith created her own theatrical production, melding the stories her grandmother used to tell with dance. Now, her play is set to show on Broadway, bringing back echoes of former dreams. But when Faith and her daughter, Amanda, move to New York City, Faith gets more trouble than she bargained for.

The back cover of The Final Act says, “What is the price of success, and are you willing to pay that price? These are questions F.R. Merrill poses in her debut novel…” Truthfully, the back cover is the only place I’ve found that asks these questions. While it is absolutely true the main character and her daughter have problems, they are in no way related to the long hours Faith has been working. Many days, her daughter is as involved with the play as Faith is, and the problems she has are continually explained to be the result of a divorce which happened shortly after her father had a mental breakdown when Amanda was two, or sometime after her parents bought her a puppy when she was seven—whichever string of the plot you choose to go along with, I suppose, as I never could find anywhere in the book that would reconcile these discrepancies.

Author F.R. Merrill is a Health Care Provider, and has been a “Professional Storyteller since 1993.”[1] The Final Act: From Woodstock to Broadway. From Death to Eternity. is her debut novel. It is normal for a debut novel to be a little more rough than an author’s following offerings, but even as a debut novel, this book needed better editing.

Multiple redundancies in the first paragraph alone had me hoping that at least the story proved to be good, because the writing felt weak and unpracticed. The author’s attempts at letting readers into her characters’ thoughts—usually an effective way of adding intimacy and familiarity—feel unrealistic, tending to make the reader feel even more disconnected from the story, instead. An example reads:
After ordering a ginger ale, she thought, I can’t believe this is happening. All week, I’ve been worried that I would run into Carl at an inopportune moment. I’d convinced myself that the chances of running into him would be nearly impossible; and yet, sitting across the room is the only other person outside the family who would know about, or have record of, those terrible years. I don’t want to relive those days of nervous innards, erratic breathing, and sleepless nights. Seeing Dr. Harris is churning up long-buried feelings.
This would be fine if the character had written this retrospectively, perhaps in a letter or journal, but as thoughts that are supposedly racing through a characters mind in a state of semi-panic, they feel wholly unbelievable.

The overall flow of the text is slow, clunky, and jerky. Another example reads:
Upon reaching their table, Gloria greeted Faith, “It’s so good to see you again. I hope your accommodations are good.”
While the waiter pulled the chair out for Faith, she answered. “It’s good to see you again Ms. Lattimore. My accommodations are wonderful.”
After Faith was comfortably seated, Gloria inquired, “How was the move? Any difficulties?”
Faith answered avoiding unnecessary trivia, “The move went well. Thanks.”
While I’m sure the character Ms. Lattimore appreciated the brevity, the reader is, by this point, likely to feel mired in trivial details, and might even wonder why we weren’t afforded the same favor.

On the other hand, when it comes to character descriptions, we are sorely lacking, knowing only that Faith and her daughter are beautiful, with black hair, and of Native American descent. Characters feel one-dimensional, lacking the depth needed to feel as if they’re real people. Many scenes lack imagery, and the few attempts toward the end of the story to set a presumably haunting tone fall flat, feeling terribly contrived.

Lastly, the story itself… I had high hopes for this book. The premise is good. It could have been a more wonderful, suspenseful, gripping tale than it was, but everything is spelled out for the reader, leaving no guesswork, no room for feelings of suspense to develop. I would have a difficult time elaborating on this point without including spoilers.

Overall, the meaning I took from The Final Act wasn’t a question of the price of success, but that is not to say there was no meaning to be found. Rather, the hardships faced in the lives of the characters was more personal than that. Many of the characters had mental health issues which went unnoticed or untreated far longer than they should have, and in the end, a daughter’s search for the approval of a mentally disturbed, emotionally distant father caused still more emotional and behavioral problems that could have been avoided or minimized had they been recognized and addressed sooner; some might say this delay was the price of success, but the problems began long before Faith’s show went to Broadway, and she stayed out late to go on dates or hang out with her friend seemingly as often as she stayed out late for work. The moral of the story there would more likely be to simply pay attention to your kids. Be a part of their lives. You can be successful and be a good parent at the same time. If you can’t, then I suggest you take a look at how you’re defining the word ‘success.’

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