Monday, December 12, 2005


George Singleton's title character, Novel Akers (younger brother of adopted twins James and Joyce), finds himself over his head when he moves to Gruel, South Carolina, hometown of his estranged wife. Gruel has a host of characters, and things seem more than a little quirky, strange, and even dangerous. The town has a secret, or several, and Novel finds himself determined to learn of it, even realizing that the truth is more likely to result in his demise than set him free.

There's a lot to laugh about in the story, what with Novel and his wife moving back to Gruel to establish the Sneeze 'n' Tone, a weight loss program based on non-stop allergen-induced sneezing. And you can't help but laugh when you read of one business in town, the Gruel Pig Petting Zoo and BBQ.

At the same time, there's an edge to the book. The reader is confronted by an unreliable narrator -- Novel is slightly delusional in part due to the excessive alcohol he consumes when he attempts to write his autobiography, also called Novel. Or maybe he isn't delusional at all, and the paranoia he develops is justified by the townsfolk.

I did enjoy Novel, but things did get a bit tiresome at times. The first time Novel described the outlandish trick shot two regulars are attempting at the pool table in the town's only bar, it was funny. The second time it was amusing. I didn't try to count how many times one of their attempts at a trick shot was described, but it was in the neighborhood of ten.

I think there's an excellent story somewhere in the book, but what's actually presented could stand for a bit more development and some additional editing.

Rating: 6/10