The Pale Surface of Things by Janey Bennett
Hopeace Press, 2007
Many times, when reading small press and self-published books, the reasons the book was published by a small press are obvious. It could be an obscure topic, an eccentric writing style, a local or regional audience, or even though I hate to say it and these are the minority, sometimes a book needs a little work and is just not ready for prime time.
However, The Pale Surface of Things is none of these things. It's a rip-roaring tale filled with action-packed scenes, sun-drenched, romantic locales, mysterious figures, generational secrets, religious men with unresolved romantic issues, gunshots, art restoration, etc. and so on, and so forth, in fact:
ATTENTION HOLLYWOOD! THIS NOVEL NEEDS TO BE A BIG SCREEN MOVIE! MAYBE WITH A FEW SEQUELS EVEN! STARRING SEVERAL MAJOR STARS AND A FEW MINOR STARS ALSO! PLEASE CAST REAL ACTORS AND NOT THOSE WHO BECAME FAMOUS FOR STARRING ON REALITY SHOWS!
ahem. Hollywood, if you're reading this, I have a few other things to talk to you about. Call me.
So basically, this book is accessible, entertaining, and better written than about 90% of the mainstream stuff out there, at least the mainstream stuff that comes across my desk for book reviews. I couldn't put it down, and it was one of those books that when it was over, I kept wondering what the characters were up to for a few more days. Any complaints I have about it are minor: some plot twists are a little too perfect, and perhaps there are a few too many plot twists? But what the hell, it was a great story. And great stories are sadly few and far between, small press or big box publishing house.
To add to the great story, there is a lot to chew on here. Morality, faith, culture, money, politics and academic struggles, successful and failed relationships all play a role in this novel. It's one of those books that if I re-read it, now that I know all the plot twists, I could go back and get a lot of nuance that I didn't previously notice. Apparently it's popular with book clubs, and I can see why; I also think Janey (and whichever lucky Hollywood producer gets her hands on this) has at least five more novels in here somewhere if she would write a sequel, explore the back stories of some of the characters, and go in more depth on a couple of the minor plotlines.
This book is just a place you want to be. So go there.