A book report. But why?
Time for a break from writing about...my...writing...to bring you my review of a great book from another independent author!
I met Mr. B. Fox on Twitter after taking notice of his book cover for Paper Castles. The cover caught my eye and intrigued me. They say don't judge a book by its cover, but the reality is it is how most of us initially "feel" a book; before we've turned it over to read the description.
Before I read the description, I also noticed the book receiving some praise on Twitter. This praise finally pushed me to read the description, and it also intrigued me.
A quick aside about the writing community on Twitter. I've never jumped headfirst into a more supportive group of people. I didn't go there expecting to "make friends" and buy independent author books, but it felt right, and so I have!
Honestly, picking up a book like this was a great decision, because I learned a great deal about how to write good literary fiction. I was not an expert in genres when I released my book, but after reading this, and spending time with other authors on Twitter, I realize that my books belong in the Literary Fiction genre. I still prefer that there is an Animal Fiction genre (and there is on Amazon), but I also think that understanding my target genre will help me focus my stories a bit better.
So anyway, we were booked to go to Hawaii, and I thought, what better time to try a new book than while stuck on an airplane for five hours? Unfortunately, I caught Covid (even though I am vaccinated), and we had to cancel that trip.
Instead of reading it in Hawaii, I brought it with me on a little anniversary getaway to Huntington Beach and dug into it there. After promising to send B. Fox a picture of his book in Hawaii, I had to send him one from Huntington Beach instead as a consolation prize.
When other writers get stuck, the number one piece of advice I dole out is, "just tell the story." It sounds so simple, but when someone is trying to perfect their craft., sometimes the storytelling gets lost, and the reader ends up stuck in a sea of unnecessary complication.
B. Fox does a great job of simply carrying the story forward with each passage in Paper Castles. The amount of inner-dialogue gives the story a "slow-burn" feel at times, maybe even laborious. But after reading the story, this all fits with the "slow-burn" of the main character's life.
While I was sometimes annoyed that someone could have as much self-hating internal dialogues as the main character James, I ultimately realized that was the point. In hindsight, as a reader, I felt the dread that James would feel encountering life circumstances that are very mundane to me in my real life.
But, then again, I've been very lucky to never experience a loss the way he did (I won't write much more about this to avoid spoilers). His loss and grief turned his world upside down, and the book is about his deterioration; until he finally reaches what might feel like "rock-bottom".
Initially, the book feels like a love-letter to disappointed and disenfranchised millennials everywhere. If one believes the press and social sciences about millennials, one could almost even describe James's characterization as trope ridden. Having worked with and managed many people from this generation, however, I don't buy into all that nonsense. Millennials know how to feel, and they are enlightened to the world's machinations better than any generation before them. I had to learn how to feel after becoming an adult, and recognizing that, I realize how important their contributions to society will be.
With all that said, James is a human first, and this is just a story about him making sense of his grief-stricken world. At times, I wanted to shout at him to just tell Karen how he feels. I wanted him to find his self-confidence and have a happy ending so badly. But, again, in hindsight, I think this is what Fox was trying to do with that slow-burn unfolding of events. Force the reader to rage at James to "man-up" (a phrase I detest, BTW), just as James rages at himself in the mirror.
He methodically drags the reader into James's personal hell of isolation, confusion, and disappointment, and it left me thinking about the story long after I finished the book.
I definitely won't spoil it here, but in Part 3 of the book, we finally understand the broken soul that James's father has become. Again, grief and loneliness have gotten the better of a man, and he's thrown away all of his fatherly responsibilities to wallow in his grief and regret.
You can feel a resentful undercurrent throughout the book every time James encounters his father, and I personally knew something major would happen eventually. When it did, however, both instances didn't feel forced. The first explosion felt predictable in the moment, but it was perfect for the story, and a sign of Fox's careful iteration of that storyline.
The second blowout I didn't see coming. It is well done, and just nails down that this story is more of a tragedy than anything.
I loved the supporting cast in this book. I've met girls (yes, girls, not women, because I was in high school or maybe college) like Karen, and Fox nails her. From the smoking, to the coffee, to the choice of words, to the way she sits on the porch. I could see her sitting there, storytelling, vividly in my mind. This is good literary fiction. I've had a crush on this exact girl a few times.
Fox also used some deeper characters, like Karen's family, his workmates, and so forth. Like all good "flat" characters, he injected them in the right amounts when needed, and didn't leave me feeling like I was missing something.
Aside from a very small number of typos, and the storyline about Karen's grandfather not landing with me at times, this was a great read. I am impressed by the talent of this first-time self-published author, I learned from him by reading this, and I'll be excited to see what he comes up with next.
You know a story has stuck with you when you find yourself driving around thinking of songs that describe different parts of the book. This happened to me, and as I did for Gone to the Movies, I've put together a soundtrack for Paper Castles. Maybe if Fox ever turns this into a movie, my music ideas will make the cut. 😊
Finger Eleven - Awake and Dreaming
Live - Shit Towne
Finger Eleven - Thin Spirits
Incubus - Wish You Were Here
The Tories - All the World's for Sale
Live - Waitress
Lenny Kravitz - Again
Nine Inch Nails - Every Day is Exactly the Same
Dirty Heads - Notice
Finger Eleven - Living in a Dream
Pearl Jam - Release
Pearl Jam - Nothingman
Matchbox Twenty - I Will
Collective Soul - She Said
Finger Eleven - Not Going to be Afraid
Semisonic - Lightning
Playlist on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3CzVin2DZ7ButP0YqHF9j1?si=69df5cb5c7724dfc
Quick explanation of why each song was chosen:
James is daydreaming constantly. So much so that he forgets his shoes half the time he goes outside. This song felt like a somber way to open the soundtrack to a somber story. It also tiptoes into James's relationship with his father.
James hates his town, but it is central to the story, so what better song than Shit Towne by Live!
James's father's theme song. Go read the lyrics and you'll see why.
James misses his mom. Need I say more?
The job James has. This is a very obscure song from a band I loved in the nineties, and I think it represents James's reservations about his work quite well.
James meets Karen at the diner, and forgets to tip her!
One of my favorite songs, and it describes James's fascination with Karen.
Again with the monotony of his job. One of the chapters is literally named "Seven Days of Monday Morning."
Back to his infatuation with Karen.
Now he's daydreaming again...but about Karen...of course.
James reckons with his relationship with his father.
James's father finally psychologically beats him into submission, and there isn't much left.
Karen takes care of James.
Theme song for Karen's grandmother.
The suit! James finally shows some courage.
Song for the epilogue.
I hope you enjoy the soundtrack and pick up a copy of Paper Castles!