Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Far, Far Away - Review

From the Publisher: It says quite a lot about Jeremy Johnson Johnson that the strangest thing about him isn't even the fact his mother and father both had the same last name. Jeremy once admitted he's able to hear voices, and the townspeople of Never Better have treated him like an outsider since. After his mother left, his father became a recluse, and it's been up to Jeremy to support the family. But it hasn't been up to Jeremy alone. The truth is, Jeremy can hear voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, The Brothers Grimm.

Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next. But when the provocative local girl Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy (and his unique abilities), a grim chain of events is put into motion. And as anyone familiar with the Grimm Brothers know, not all fairy tales have happy endings...


If you haven't already figured it out, Far, Far Away by author Tom McNeal is a modern fairy tale. I must say it's a good one, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.  The book is beautifully written with language that creates images without having to describe them, painting landscapes and settings across your mind with just a handful of choice words. The characters are simply beautifully crafted, well written and deeply likable. They are, in fact, what pulls you through the plot. I could not help but want to know what happens to each of these characters. The minor as well as major.

Technically, this book shouldn't be any good. According to agents, editors, publishers, teachers, how-to books and mostly my dubious eye Far, Far Away is a mess. It's a genre conundrum. It's not scifi. It's not fantasy. It's not a fairy tale retelling. It's not a mystery and it's not literary. It might kind of fit on the shelf next to Neil Gaiman's work but only just. It's made up of bits and pieces of each of these genres without belonging to any of them.


Structurally, the inciting incident is "late". The characters have only tenuous motivations until the later part of the book. There are large chunks of exposition. Characters, and character backgrounds are intricately detailed and then never really returned to. There is no villain, no one to really struggle against, for much of the book. The main character changes partway through and the end... well, I won't spoil that because despite all these things done "wrong" this book is good. Sooooooo good.

I cannot emphasize the goodness enough.

What to know: There is a tiny smattering of language throughout the book but nothing more than a PG rating. Sex and various body functions exists in this world are never more than alluded to. The book gets quite dark and grim towards the end, enough so that I wouldn't recommend it for young, sensitive readers. Younger teens who aren't easily spooked and older teens will greatly enjoy the read.

Far, Far Away is an inspiration to me. As a writer myself, I too often feel the enormous press of the arbitrary rules created by non-writers on my art form. It reminds me that there aren't rules in art. There are concepts that can make art more compelling, more sell-able but there aren't rules. VanGogh's works are technical garbage compared to the perfect detail of a DaVinci but they are both beautiful, moving and masterpieces in their own rights. Seeing everything done "wrong" and the resulting book still be so undeniably good has earned Far, Far Away a space on my must read shelf.

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~SJA

Images of Van Gogh's "Wheat Field with Cypresses"and Da Vinci's "The Head of the Virgin in Three-Quarter View Facing Right" courtesy of metmusuem.org

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