The most horrifying aspect of Charles Grant’s new "spine tingling" novel Symphony is that trees were killed to publish it. Committed environmentalists, read on.
Symphony stars Casey Chisholm, a former convenience store stick-up man turned pastor of a small, east coast community. Uh-huh. Following a series of eerie events (if a whole lot of moths dying suddenly strikes you as eerie), we learn that Casey is possessed of a mysterious power to heal the wounded. This is good to have, because after pages of lame "ominous" build-up, things start catching fire and blowing up real good, but not quite as good as say, your average encounter between Mr. Bill and Mr. Sluggo.
The characters in Symphony are variously constructed from pine, mahogany, and teak. There’s the not-so-nonviolent-hippie—Arlo. There’s the not-quite-nutty-enough UFO lady. And what’s the business of the character named Escobar? If you guessed "ruthless drug dealer"—well I guess you know your walnut.
Stylistically, Mr. Grant is in spirited competition with Samuel F. B. Morse. Every other paragraph is broken.
Into fragment-laden paragraphs.
For an intended frightening affect.
A stylistic tic in no way spooky.
But tedious and annoying over three hundred pages.
Structurally, Mr. Grant follows the storied path paved by Tom Clancy, involving brief vignettes of widely separated characters. Mr. Clancy’s material requires chapter headings to begin "Ulan Bator, 4 p.m., United Mongolian Submarine Command," or "Yellow Knife, 6 a.m., Consolidated Water Skiing Attack Squad." Mr. Grant’s requirements are more prosaic, as he merely needs to set up one small, east coast town and a cross-country car full of murderous jackals. Even so, it takes over eighty pages before the characters converge, and by then the reader’s interest has wandered off somewhere for a beer, never to return.
A certain minimal level of suspense is established, regarding whether the Evil originates with drug dealers, UFOs, or demons from Hell. Given such banal options, however, one’s pulse remains well below the rate reached right before the Galloping Gourmet removes the soufflé from the oven.
Mr. Grant’s ear for dialogue is as tin as his characters are wooden. Back-woods characters speak a bizarre melange of Trailer Park crossed with Deliverance. Here’s Casey’s account of his childhood:
My daddy worked for the railroad. Signalman in a tower. Not very exciting but it was fun to say he worked with trains. We got free rides, Momma and me. We had to. He made no real money, and Momma had to take in washing now and then just to be sure we got fed. He died when I was fifteen. … I went to the funeral, and that’s the last time I went to church.
At this point the reader should quietly put the book down and crank up Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airman’s "Mama Hated Diesels" for a much-needed dose of irony.
Grant is trumpeted in the press release as one of the "quality authors whose elite members include Stephen King." When "best-selling" becomes synonymous with "quality," we should all close our books and switch on "Roseanne."