Friday, 3 April 2015

Review: The Jump Journal

The Jump Journal
The Jump Journal by Douglas Corriveau

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, this was pretty much a train wreck, if I'm honest.

One of the reasons I bought it was that a reviewer on Amazon mentioned not noticing any errors. I can only assume they aren't particularly observant, because I noticed coming up on 90 (not counting some that were frequently repeated). The author, in the acknowledgements, thanks his editor/father for his help with a "conglomeration of typos, substitutions, and missing words," but there are still dozens left, not to mention seriously nonstandard punctuation. It needs the hand of a professional editor, who will still inevitably miss some, just because there are so many.

The notes I took included: Question mark or exclamation mark, pick one (hint: question mark); only ever one question mark, never two (this is a repeated error, but I only counted it once); three points per ellipsis, not two, not six, only three (or four if it ends a sentence); two, not three, hyphens if you want an em dash; either OK or okay, not ok or O.K; no capital after a semicolon; no full stop immediately after a colon; 400 or four hundred, not 400 hundred (twice); be careful about misplaced spaces (which a spell check should pick up). In general, type more slowly; make sure you're putting in all the words and that your noun and verb agree in number; cut down the "that"s ("the longer that I stayed, the more that a new feeling crept inside of me" is a sentence that needs no "that"s); learn when to use "all together" and when to use "altogether", when to use "some time" and when to use "sometime"; don't confuse "its" and "it's"; watch for the typo where/were; curiosity is piqued, not peaked; and you pore over research, you do not pour over it.

That's a selection, not an exhaustive list.

So, leaving all that aside, how was it as a story?

There will be some minor spoilers ahead. I'll be as vague as I can while still noting things that were a problem for me.

The overall concept is that a rather whiny, loserish college student gains, for reasons never explained, the ability to "jump" through time. Mostly this is the ability to take his consciousness back to an earlier point in the timeline and make a new choice with his knowledge of what his old choice had led to, but sometimes it involves his body going back. It's not really consistent. Also, his consciousness can jump forward if he's doing something boring and wants to cut to the chase (an ability which would occasionally have been useful while reading the actual book).

He falls in love with a girl who's, frankly, way too good for him and a total fantasy of perfection, uses his powers to "help" her, and she finds him out and is upset, because among her many perfections is complete moral integrity. Around this time, again for reasons that never completely become clear, he finds that there's a point in the year where he goes back to the beginning of the whole business (though not to his very first jump, for some reason) and has to live the year over again. Not wanting to mess up the sainted Amy's life, he wanders away from the campus and ends up in a different experience altogether. (There are hints at one point that this isn't just his problem, that there's a wall at the end of the year that will affect us all, but that's never developed and seems to get dropped.)

This turning-unwillingly-back-to-the-start event happens four hundred times.

Fortunately, we don't have to go through all four hundred, just the first few and then a selected number from much later (though the narrative is sometimes confusing about where we are in the sequence exactly). Partway through, I realised what genre it reminded me of: the picaresque, which is the episodic adventures of a rogue/drifter who encounters various people in various places as he repeatedly gets into trouble because of his moral flaws and has to flee to the next adventure.

The thing is, the main character here isn't much of a rogue. He's Luke Skywalker (mostly early, whiny, loser Luke) in a role that's better suited to Han Solo. The result is a picaresque without any fun. Portentous chapter introductions are followed by depressive and depressing events.

Two notable things that the main character doesn't do that you'd usually see in a picaresque: he doesn't gamble, and he doesn't have sex. An oblique mention in the acknowledgements suggest that this is because the author is part of a Christian milieu where these wouldn't be acceptable topics, which is why, even though there's no suggestion that the character is the kind of person who wouldn't do these things on moral principle, he nevertheless doesn't do them. It doesn't seem to occur to him to get money by gambling (he gets it by pool hustling at one point, but he takes pride in not using his abilities to cheat), and so he remains down and out throughout the book. Good for the depressive, hopeless atmosphere, not so good for the suspension of disbelief.

On the other hand, he doesn't seem to be very bright. It takes him a long time to realise that he's being taken back to the beginning of the year at the end of every year, and to expect that. It takes him even longer to work out that the people he saved in one version of the year don't remain saved in another version, where he went somewhere else and wasn't there to save them. It takes him decades to figure this out, even though it's patently obvious and he supposedly researches time travel obsessively at one point.

His character arc remains flat for a long, long time, too. Whiny loser, whiny loser, whiny loser, whiny loser... gets it together and tries to figure out how to fix things, which takes him another 200-odd years (quickly skipped through in narration near the end of the book). And how does he finally get it together? Well, jumping acts like an addiction for him, and he falls in, by complete coincidence, with a drug-rehab program, and goes through it and gets "clean", and doesn't jump for a while. And then the plot requires him to jump a lot, but it's not a problem for him anymore. Which is not how addiction works.

Unfortunately, a lot of what happens appears to happen because the plot requires it, not because it's what the character would do. And I'm sorry, but someone who doesn't get over themselves in 179 years isn't going to suddenly get over themselves. Anyone capable of remaining broken-hearted over the loss of his one true love for that long (and more than twice that long) is... well, let's say "hard to believe". The timescale is far too extended. Forty years rather than 400 would have been more believable.

Time travel is hard to do well. You have to manage the paradoxes and the spaghetti of the timelines really carefully. The premise of this book made that part potentially much easier, but failed, for me, to create a coherent or convincing narrative or depict a character I wanted to spend more time with; spent far too long wallowing in depression; finished with an unlikely resolution; and, along the way, was littered with basic prose errors.

I wanted to give it three stars, because it's an earnest try and it did manage to keep my attention for the whole book. To be fair to other authors to whom I've given three stars, though, it has to be two, with a note that it's kind of two and a half.

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