Mar 29, 2009: There’s not a lot I can say about Among the Shadows. I’ve read 5 chapters of it—which took me quite a bit of time—and I’m no closer to finding a story now than I was when I started.
Ostensibly, the piece is about Shane, a hermaphrodite and genius, who skipped high school the first time around and so decides to return after completing his PhD to teach math. He’s twenty, now—barely older than his students will be—and somewhat unhappily married. He fears what people will think of him if they find out his true nature—that they will be repulsed and disgusted—and so he tries to pretend he is just a normal man. He has trouble in bed, as his equipment was installed by doctors instead of by nature. His wife is emotionally unstable—not crazy, maybe, but definitely some kind of conflict junky. In his recent past, Shane has taught karate, run an internet/phone-sex company, and left a band that’s going on to fame and fortune without him. The first five chapters follow him on his first day at his new job—about a week before the students return to school—as he finds his classroom, is offered a promotion, and deals with all the new people he will be working with—many of whom suspect him because of his rock band past (they don’t realize his life is quite a bit more sordid).
I’m a big believer that any story can work, as long as the writing is good. Unfortunately, the writing in Among the Shadows just isn’t. The narrative is dry and rambling, without any real warmth to it. The narrator regularly steps out of scene for paragraphs and paragraphs of backstory and unlikely internal state. Much of the text feels disconnected from the story, floating in space, while the scene fades further and further from the reader’s mind. Nothing is ever allowed to get going—we are never allowed to just observe Shane for any length of time. The narrator constantly stops to explain what is going on in the scene, instead of showing us and letting us figure it out for ourselves. The result is a narrative that feels heavy-handed, and that literally drags by. And the dialogue—what little there is—is flat and lifeless. Characters sound almost like robots, saying exactly what you’d expect them to say, with no subtext or sidetrips of any kind—the constant narrative interjections telling us there’s subtext notwithstanding.
That all said, I did laugh out loud a few times at something Shane said. As a character, he’s not without his charms. If only he were allowed to carry the story, things might have turned out differently. But he’s not, and they don’t.
I think there really is a story in here that wants to be told. I think there really is a well thought-out character here, too, in Shane. It certainly feels like there’s a lot of depth to him. But, as written, there’s little chance any of this will connect with an audience. It’s just glacial in pace. And that’s really too bad.
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