Drowned Boy--Jerry Gabriel

Normally I wouldn't post a review like this one, and I suppose I shouldn't with this--but I thought that perhaps by writing it I could come to terms with the book in a way that would otherwise not occur.

Let's start on the upside--there are some evocative moments in the book--some good writing, some memorable scenes.  The book inspired me to remember my own experiences in Ohio and to write about them in somewhat more detail that I have heretofore.  And there were moments when Mr. Gabriel really locked in a sense of the setting for me.

On the downside:  I had read two reviews of the book that suggested that it would be superb reading--an up and coming artist whose work I needed to pay attention to.  And perhaps to some extent this is true--there are flashes of brilliance, moments of real poetry.  But for the most part, the stories didn't really go anywhere.  The title story evoked neither sympathy for the drowned boy, nor sympathy for those affected by his death, nor horror at how it was commemorated, nor deep thought on how it was meaningful.  A boy drowned, has a funeral, a couple of people meet, drift away in opposite directions. The plotting was scattered, the attention to detail sparse, and the language occasionally rough--a thorough copy edit would have been a benefit.

That said, there were some stories that really stood out in odd ways.  The last story in the collection which has the main character searching (sort of) for his brother.  The chronologically displaced story about the narrator who is reviewing the baseball career of a would-be start who opts for academics instead.

I don't know--overall I wasn't as impressed as I had hoped.  I come away with a handful of moments, a couple of scenes, but a sense that this writer is just on his way--the promise is there and truthfully more than promise.  The book is worth reading.  It just isn't in the realms of great yet--it is is the realm of promise.  And so, perhaps my disappointment is too great for its occasion, because there is nothing that prevents me from saying that this book is



  1. You make some interesting points in your review; however, I was more impressed with DROWNED BOY, and my review, which you can read at at ForeWord Magazine, includes some observations that I would encourage readers to consider.

  2. Dear R.T.,

    Indeed, it was this review that caused me to read the book in the first place. I've reread your original and find upon completing the book that while I can see some of your points, I did not feel that they were strong throughout. I often felt that the author was casting about for motive force to the story, for meaning in the characters, for details that were meaningful. And yet, as I have said above, there was much to recommend the book and much that the author did well.

    I can't drum up your enthusiasm, but that could be more a reflection on me and my taste than on the quality of the writing. Always something to be borne in mind when reading any review.

    But thank you for posting the link to your review--that was an important consideration in my own reading and I couldn't find it.



  3. I agree with your implied assertion that "taste" is a quirky (and perhaps irrelevant) intangible, and I would hesitate ever to elevate one person's "taste" in literature over another person's. In fact, I have been accused of poor "taste" in my reading habits and preferences (especially by some academics, colleagues, and intellectuals), but I ignore the criticism because I think all readers are entitled to their own "tastes." After all, diverse "tastes" ought to be celebrated because it would be a horribly boring world if we all agreed about all books. Well, that is enough about that peculiar word: "taste." Finally, what is most interesting, I think, about the DROWNED BOY collection is that it is substantial enough--in themes and technique--to provoke different legitimate, defensible responses from different, thoughtful readers.

  4. Dear R.T.,

    Finally, what is most interesting, I think, about the DROWNED BOY collection is that it is substantial enough--in themes and technique--to provoke different legitimate, defensible responses from different, thoughtful readers.

    A good point in itself, and of course the point preceding is worthwhile as well. And perhaps also comes close to mirroring my thoughts on the enigmatic Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. That I should think so much about it may be a reflection of its quality.

    (Equally it could be a reflection on my tendency toward OCD).

    Thank you for the comments.




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